Education boss grilled by committee

Chief executive of the Ministry of Education Lesley Longstone came under fire this morning over Novopay, charter schools, a failed class size policy and Christchurch school closures.

Ms Longstone fronted the Education and Science Select Committee today, and answered questions from Labour MPs Chris Hipkins, Megan Woods, Sue Moroney, Green MP Catherine Delahunty and NZ First's Tracey Martin.

Ms Longstone conceded she wished she could wind back the clock over the rollout of Novopay.

"If I were to do it again, I would probably do it completely and totally differently," she told the committee.

She announced at the committee that Novopay will be independently reviewed over the ongoing errors in paying school staff.

The review would be carried out next year. It would review both Talent2 and the ministry over why there had been so many problems with Novopay, why preparations were not in place to cope with the problems, and what could be done differently in future.

Ms Moroney asked what had happened to savings from the failed class size policy, tagged to fund post-graduate teacher training.

Ms Longstone said the money was no longer there, as a result of a backdown on changes to class size.

"At the time I was quite happy to say that I believed that if you were making choices about where you invest your marginal dollar, you would - on the basis of evidence - invest it in quality teaching and learning rather than class sizes."

"That is not to say larger class sizes produced better educational outcomes and small class sizes do not - but the things that make the biggest difference are the quality of teaching and learning."

Greens' education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty asked about charter schools being proposed and why unregistered teachers would be employed.

Ms Longstone likened accepting charter schools to the development of the aeroplane, "where we started with one propeller and then had two and eventually there was a complete leap to you need a jet engine.

"It's the same with education; you need the space to be able to innovate, and that's what partnership schools are doing."

Ms Delahunty said charter schools in the UK and overseas had failed, and the system should not be followed here.

Ms Longstone said the ministry had not modelled charter schools on any country.

She defended charter schools not being subject to the Official Information Act, but said schools would be required to meet National Standards.

On the subject of closures and mergers of Christchurch schools, Ms Longstone was asked about a colour-coded name tag system for announcements to school staff.

Staff were colour-coded depending on the fate of their school.

She said in retrospect, it had been a crude system but the intention had been to make sure schools who would be emotionally impacted wouldn't feel exposed by being around others.

 

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