Transport Minister Michael Wood takes savage 'right-wing hack' jab at academic over education policy

The Transport Minister has labelled an academic a "right-wing hack" live on-air in a heated exchange over education policy.

Erica Stanford, National's education spokesperson, was discussing her party's new education plan unveiled on Thursday - which would introduce compulsory hour-long lessons in reading, writing and maths each day.

But Transport Minister Michael Wood, appearing on AM alongside Stanford, slammed National's plan as "junk policy".

The minister said the policy was "based on a whole lot of things that are just wrong".

Wood believed the plan was disrespectful to teachers.

"We've specifically brought in 200 frontline people to support teachers to teach the curriculum," he said. "We've given additional training to 600 teachers to better support them to teach."

However, one policy expert saw sense in National's plan. While many have referred to the plan as the party's previous national standards, the New Zealand Initiative senior fellow Michael Johnston didn't believe that was the case.

National standards were introduced by the National Government in 2010, aimed at informing parents about how well their child was doing in reading, writing and maths compared to their peers. They were scrapped by Labour in 2017. 

"When national standards were introduced last time around, teachers were not given any tools to make their judgements - they had to just make it up, more or less, out of what they saw in front of them," Johnston told AM. "That resulted in massive unreliability in the data."

But the minister lashed out over Johnston's point of view, saying he'd rather listen to Wendy Esra - the principal of Henderson Intermediate who earlier told AM National's education policy was "insulting" and believed it wouldn't work.

"I'll listen to the teacher who was at the desk here, not the right-wing hack from the former business roundtable who's got an ideological agenda," Wood said.

"That's very nasty, Michael - good lord," Stanford responded.

Before the interview turned heated, Stanford said her policy was evidence-based and aimed to give teachers more support.

She believed the current curriculum didn't give teachers enough guidance.

"Our curriculum, since 2007, is extremely loose and it's based on 'competencies' and not knowledge," Stanford said.

But Wood suggested that wasn't the case.

"Listen to what the teachers are saying about this," he said. "Any teacher can pick up their kids' report and see very, very clearly where their kid is at against the curriculum."

Stanford went on to say that something had to be done lift education standards.

"When 2 percent of our decile 1 kids can't pass a basic reading, writing and maths test at 15, we have to do something about it.

"You know what? I'm not going to sit here and listen to the fact that, 'Oh well, kids come in and they've got all these issues and they're poor'... The education system should be the great equaliser for every kid and, at the moment, it's not.

"I want to change that."

AM host Ryan Bridge asked Wood what he made of those comments from Stanford.

"Every kid in this country deserves the best possible education - it's what enables them to reach their potential," Wood responded.

He agreed improvements needed to be made but said National's plan wasn't the answer.

Wood reiterated his belief the National Party's policy was "reheated national standards".

"The National Party getting in there and actually making very specific things about what should and shouldn't be in the curriculum… we need to trust our professionals," he said.

"Why is it one hour each day? Why shouldn't it be 45 minutes?"

Speaking to reporters earlier this week, before National unveiled the full policy, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said he didn't want education to become a "political football". 

"We try and achieve a bipartisan consensus around curriculum because I think that is something where we should be able to reach [an] agreement."

Hipkins, who was Education Minister before becoming PM, said he'd "hate" to see political parties putting "specific curriculum initiatives up in their manifestos".

Parents, children and teachers deserved a stable curriculum no matter which party was in Government, he said.

This article was amended because it incorrectly stated the Transport Minister called Erica Stanford a "right-wing hack". The Transport Minister in fact called Michael Johnston a "right-wing hack" and has been amended accordingly.