Labour's grand education plans

Stage one of Labour's grand education plans is under way. Labour has acted on some of its election promises and now seeks to gather information.

It has set up a ''national conversation'', with large education summits in Christchurch and Auckland. It has appointed its education review ''guardians'', including former education minister Sir Lockwood Smith.

This advisory group is to ''provide coherence'' between ideas submitted by thousands of people through the ''conversation'' and the Government's review of most parts of the education system.

It is hard to argue against a wide review, and hard to disagree with involving the public. But the dangers and drawbacks are also apparent.

Talk is cheap and there will be an avalanche of opinions. Worthy statements about the direction of education will abound. At some stage, Labour and its experts are going to have to make tough calls.

How much of all the money and effort will be a sham? How much is already set in place because of Labour's ideological positioning and the power and vested interests of the teacher unions? How much resistance will there be from the education bureaucracy and from all the other players in education?

If there is a groundswell in certain quarters in favour of some charter schools, too bad. They are out, even if at least a few of them have provided fresh education approaches and some success with pupils failed by the current system.

There are some in poor communities who saw the value of National Standards. Former Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox, for one, said schools ''lifted their game'' for Maori students since they had to achieve those standards. It could be that parts of the standards might be effective and should be resurrected. But that would now seem impossible. They are gone.

If, to ameliorate teacher shortages, it makes sense to employ able staff who might lack the relevant pieces of qualification paper, too bad. Try to get that past the interest groups concerned.

What, too, about a form of bulk funding of salaries so schools actually do have some control over the bulk of their budget? Not likely. Much easier to talk about such matters and leave them pretty much as they are.

What about paying teachers more on merit (whatever the challenges to do so fairly), as occurs in many other jobs?

Good luck with that.

There is, nevertheless, bound to be good material in the wider strategies and the various plans and consultation. Maybe, too, there are opportunities for Labour to make changes that if National tried would be shouted down.

The grand plans of Education Minister Chris Hipkins have to be allowed to run their course. Let us see what actually comes of them, giving them a chance whatever the scepticism.

Any major reorganisation of education - what a mammoth task that would be - will not happen in this parliamentary term. Fair enough. That would take time.

In the meantime, sensibly, the Government is endeavouring to get runs on the board. The proposal to scrap some official reporting requirements for teachers so as to reduce their teaching load is excellent.

One positive outcome from the elimination of National Standards is reduced paperwork. No doubt there are all sorts of other compliance and administrative tasks generated by government that fall on schools and teachers. Any that are not strictly necessary should be ditched.

And every time a Wellington bureaucrat wants another survey or more boxes to be ticked, that tendency must be questioned and mostly resisted.

If Mr Hipkins, a capable and driven minister, is to make serious changes, he and his advisers must put pupils and parents first. They must not let ideology drive the results of the ''conversation'' and consultation.

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