Education union reacts to Government's class ratio announcement, promises to campaign for more

The Government's plan to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio for Year 4-8 students is being called a "small but concrete step" by the country's biggest education union.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti on Monday announced that by 2025 the ratio of teachers to students in Year 4-8 classrooms will be reduced from 1:29 to 1:28. A ministerial advisory group is also being established to consider class sizes and whether further decreases are achievable.

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) President Mark Potter called the plan a "small but concrete step towards classrooms where every child can learn and thrive". 

He said it would be the first reduction for this grouping in more than a generation and comes following collective efforts by the union's members to improve outcomes for children.

"Our members have been campaigning for a reduction in class sizes and improved staffing for many years," he said. "It was a key reason for our most recent strike on 16 March."

However, Potter said the union would be campaigning for "further decreases and better resourcing in schools". 

"We have the evidence to show that smaller classroom sizes will benefit all students in what is an increasingly complex learning environment," he said. 

The 1:28 ratio is still higher than what was recommended in a review released by the NZEI in 2021

Former Education Minister Steve Maharey led that work, suggesting ratios were progressively lowered over the coming decade. By the end of 2025, it recommended a ratio of 1:25 for Years 4-8, and for that to be at 1:23 at the end of 2030.

Potter described this as setting a "framework for what good education looks like in classrooms". 

"As teachers, we know that what we need to do to boost student success for all tamariki in years 4-8. Smaller class sizes, more teacher aides and specialist staff to support children with learning needs are all critical. 

"We want to see substantive change being made over time and we are pleased that Minister Tinetti has said today that she wants the Advisory Group to work fast. We look forward to working closely with the Government and Ministry through this process."

The ACT Party reacted to the announcement by saying fewer children are already in classrooms due to truancy. 

"A good education is the most important thing kids need if they’re to grow up to have a fulfilling life and be contributing members of society," education spokesperson Chris Baillie said.

"Almost every aspect of someone's adult life will be defined by the education they receive as a child. For better social outcomes, kids need to be in the classroom and learning the basics."

Ministry of Education data shows that in Term 3, 2022 less than half of students attended school more than 90 percent of the term. The majority of the absences were recorded as being justified, with the biggest driver being medical reasons.

The plan to reduce the ratio is being supported by the Government saying there will be an additional 320 full-time teachers in primary and intermediate schools around the schools. Half of those will be in classrooms from next year, the Government said. 

The minister said the Government's taken several steps to attract and retain teachers, including increasing the average teacher's salary package by 18 percent. She said the number of teachers in primary and intermediate has risen by more than 3000.

"The Government has also been very focused on supporting teacher recruitment, including the investment last year of an additional $24 million to train and attract 1000 more teachers," Tinetti said.

"Since September last year, 478 people have been offered teaching scholarships, of which 290 were career-change scholarships, we have supported 124 beginning and returning teachers into roles through the BeTTER Programme, and all qualified teachers are on the Accredited Employer Work Visa Green List, with over 758 visas already issued and 302 teachers already here."

Teacher-to-student ratios are used to help calculate the amount of funding schools are entitled to for staffing.

Currently, for Years 4-8, the ratio is 1:29. That's the highest of all ratios, with Year 1, for example, being 1:15, and Years 2-3 being 1:23.

The number of students in a classroom in any individual school may not necessarily match the ratio as it's up to schools to make decisions about actual class sizes. Schools with smaller rolls may already be operating ratios less than 1:28 for Years 4-8 and will therefore see no difference from the changes.