200 children march over cuts

Oamaru Intermediate School pupils march to show they care about  teaching staff cuts. Photo by...
Oamaru Intermediate School pupils march to show they care about teaching staff cuts. Photo by Andrew Ashton.
The participation of children from Oamaru Intermediate School (OIS) in a march to deliver a message proposing a moratorium on Government cuts to specialist teacher numbers was yesterday condemned by Waitaki and National Party MP Jacqui Dean.

More than 200 pupils from the school marched along Thames Street to accompany school Board of Trustees representatives on their way to a meeting with Mrs Dean to object to 2012 Budget plans to cut teaching jobs, which the school says would see class sizes swell to unacceptable levels.

And although Mrs Dean said she was "happy" to work with the school, she objected to the use of children in what she said was a "political stunt".

"I have to say I am appalled that an education professional would stoop so low as to use children in what is an adult argument."

She said the demonstration had been an "over-reaction" over a "minimal" increase in class sizes, and said the Government planned to pour $60 million into education to improve the quality of teaching, something she said international studies showed had more effect on education than class size.

In a meeting with the MP, OIS Principal Mary Healey said the children, who did not miss any school work during the march, had not been involved in any political stunt.

She said the Government's plans would mean that two technology teachers from the school would lose their jobs, and 60 children would then have to be spread over eight classes.

Specialist teaching staff numbers for year seven and eight pupils will be appraised in September under the proposed changes and Mrs Healey suggested that such a delay would cause uncertainty for teachers who would struggle to find new teaching jobs.

If the plans were to work, a moratorium was needed, she said.

"I can't have staff in my school not knowing if they will have a job in September.

"They have specialised skill sets and they will not be able to get a classroom job."

Mrs Dean accepted that OIS was a "fantastic" school and added that the policy was not a a reflection on the quality of schools in Oamaru.

However, the Government was serious about tackling continued underachievement of Maori and Pasifika pupils, and an education system had to cater for "all New Zealand", she said.

"Technology is not going to be taken off anyone, we are going to work with schools to ensure that doesn't happen.

"The focus now should be on how we make it work."

Relieving art teacher Amanda Dennis said both teachers and pupils were passionate about the need to retain technology teachers and standards at technology centres.

"I'm an art teacher, I have been relieving here and I would like to stay employed.

"Those kids that are not academically minded really learn a ... lot through art and technology."

Ms Dennis said the pupils were not being used for political purposes, but said the children felt strongly about the importance of the school.

"The kids are really fired up.

"They have all been quite motivated making signs. It's been great to see."

Yesterday's event had not been a protest march, they had simply delivered a letter - "with signs and songs," she said.


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