Dean absent for protest in Oamaru

 North Otago teachers gather outside Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean's office in Oamaru yesterday for a national day of action against the National Party policy,  Investing in Educational Success. Photo by David Bruce.
North Otago teachers gather outside Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean's office in Oamaru yesterday for a national day of action against the National Party policy, Investing in Educational Success. Photo by David Bruce.

Anout 60 North Otago teachers protested outside Jacqui Dean's office in Oamaru yesterday, but the National Party Waitaki MP and candidate was not there to hear them.

She did get the message, though, as about 20 posters and placards were left taped to the window after teachers left.

The protesters joined about 90 at the four MP offices in Dunedin and another 60 in Invercargill.

The protest was part of national action organised by the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) involving teachers, principals, school support staff, boards of trustees and parents over the Government's proposed $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy.

Instead, NZEI wants to see the money spent to directly benefit children in schools.

The protesters met at 7.30am outside MP's offices throughout New Zealand to deliver letters asking for cross-party support for education initiatives that will target the real needs of children.

While NZEI is opposing IES, the secondary school teachers' union, the Post Primary Teachers' Association, has supported it.

NZEI's opposition has attracted criticism from Prime Minister John Key, who said the union was a branch of the Labour Party and ''playing politics'' with education.

Act New Zealand leader Jamie Whyte joined the criticism on Thursday, slamming an NZEI notice asking parents to bring their primary-age children to the protests, saying they were being used as ''political pawns''.

''This is wrong. What primary school child understands what it is about? Should they be used as protest fodder in this way?'' he asked.

He called on all political leaders to condemn in the strongest terms the campaign by the union to use schoolchildren to participate in a political protest.

In Oamaru, only four children were among the protesters, all from families of school staff.

North Otago NZEI delegation leader Chris Mosedale, asked about involving children, was not aware that was a union request, and said it had not been made in North Otago.

He also rejected the accusation of being a political arm of the Labour Party determined to derail National's campaign.

''We can assure you that this has never been our intention and that, at all times, the needs of students and their whanau have been paramount in our actions,'' he said.

NZEI national secretary Paul Goulter also denied parents were being actively encouraged to bring their children to a protest.

''If that happened, it was because parents made that decision.

''It's a bit rich for Act to criticise parents for exercising a legitimate right to make their views known,'' he said.

During the protest in Oamaru, there were chants of ''Jacqui Dean, wake up, time to go to work'', along with other slogans opposing IES.

Contacted by the Otago Daily Times, Mrs Dean said she first heard about the protest when a journalist contacted her at her office on Wednesday evening.

Her office staff told her on Thursday about notification of the protest.

However, she had ''things to do'' at the time of the protest and could not attend.

IES proposes increasing salaries of middle managers and lead teachers, with the intention of raising student achievement.

Communities of schools would be established to strengthen collaboration, with top principals and teachers spending time out of class to share expertise with colleagues at their own and nearby schools.

david.bruce@odt.co.nz