[Sitting date: 30 May 2012. Volume:680;Page:2659. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Education?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
David Shearer: Does he agree—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have to call the member. I must say, with all the noise, I did not even hear what the Prime Minister said. I trust the answer was “Yes.”, so we will go to the Leader of the Opposition.
David Shearer: Does he agree with his education Minister that it is good news that the schools are only losing up to two teachers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that needs to be seen in the context of what the Minister said. [Interruption] Well, I can take any couple of words out of context if I want to. What the Minister was saying is that there is an absolute limit to the number of teachers that a school could lose. What she was also saying, though, very importantly, is that there will be 962 schools that will potentially gain a teacher, there are 230 schools that will potentially gain two teachers, and there is well over $100 million going into professional development to help the 50,000 teachers who are there. I think if we go and ask New Zealand parents whether they want to see professional development supporting quality teaching in this country, I think you will find that the answer from most of them will be yes.
David Shearer: Is the Prime—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order. I must be able to hear these questions. I know my hearing is not great, but the noise is pretty loud, and I must be able to hear these questions.
David Shearer: When he said yesterday that he was aware of the impact of the changes made to staffing ratios when Budget decisions were made, why did he personally intervene in this issue only on Monday this week to limit staff losses to two?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As we made clear yesterday, there has always been a transition process that was going to take place, and it made sense as we wrote to the schools last Thursday, and it made sense, actually, for that transition to be in conjunction with them, but because we wanted to allay the fears that some parents could have, we have made it clear that it is limited to two fulltime-equivalents. But this may be the piece of information that Labour does not want out there, and that is that the performance of New Zealand students on average did not change between 2000 and 2009 when it came to reading. For the vast bulk of that time, Labour was in Government. If one looks at the Programme for International Student Assessment study and other international studies—
Mr SPEAKER: I think we have had sufficient answer to the question asked.
David Shearer: Is he saying that by increasing class sizes he will be able to improve the educational learning of our children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I am saying is that between 2000 and 2009 the reading performance of New Zealand students on average did not change. What I am saying is that the performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment and other international surveys of student achievement has remained relatively static over the past decade, despite the fact that we have hired 6,000 extra teachers. We now have approximately 50,000 teachers, and maybe it is time to give those teachers a bit more support to get quality teaching outcomes.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was actually a pretty straight question: did he consider increasing class sizes improved child learning quality?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has just pointed out that he asked “Does he consider that …”. The Prime Minister in answering gave information about the impact of the number of teachers employed on pupil achievement, and I think that was a reasonable answer to the question asked because the question asked was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. The Prime Minister pointed out the facts of the matter about the number of extra teachers, and therefore the reduction in classes seemed to have no impact on learning outcomes. That seems to be a reasonable way to answer the question. I call the Leader of the Opposition—
Hon Paula Bennett: He’s laying down the facts; they don’t like the facts of it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition’s question.
David Shearer: Can he and his education Minister give parents an assurance that school staffing entitlements will not be further reduced after the end of the third year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We will work our way through that in the fullness of time. But what is interesting is that there will be an election and quite a number of Budgets before then.
David Shearer: Does he agree with intermediate school principal Barry Roberts, who said in response to the changes announced yesterday that “Instead of death by shooting, it’s death by strangulation and hoping we’re not going to notice the difference.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and let me go back to this basic point. Let us ask the most basic question for a moment. Are we all sitting around in this country saying that when there is no change in the average reading performance of our kids for over a decade, and when the Programme for International Student Assessment studies and others are showing there is no basic change, yet we have hired 6,000 extra teachers and had very low roll growth, we should just carry on and hire a few hundred more? If it has not worked for the last 6,000, it is probably not going to work for the next 6,000. The facts of life are that those guys left office with one in five kids unable to read and write properly, and they did not care. Well, we are actually doing something about it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will observe that the Prime Minister received a question, then he phrased another question, proceeded to answer that question, and ended up with a rant and rave about the Labour Party. Surely that cannot be the way we conduct question time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. Again, I invite the right honourable member to listen to the question. The question asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with a statement from a school principal, I think, that the changes were not something to do with being shot but death by strangulation or something, from memory. He asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with that. The Prime Minister in his answer told the House what he did agree with. And if members want to ask questions of Ministers about what they agree with—whether they agree with certain fairly out-there statements, and that was a fairly out-there statement—the Ministers are at liberty to tell the House what they do agree with. I am not going to stop Ministers from telling the House what they do agree with over important issues like this. This is not just a game; these are important issues. That is why members have focused on these issues. And the chance to get decent questions and answers in the House is an important part of our process. I think that was not an unreasonable answer to the question asked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hearing is as good as yours, for a start. I heard what the answer was in respect of the teacher’s comment, but then he raised a new question himself, and then proceeded to answer that and you never stopped him. Then he attacked the Labour Party, and you did not stop him doing that. He answered one question, the first one first, then phrased a question of his own, then he answered that, and that is not within the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: With respect to the right honourable gentleman, the Speaker determines that. Again, I can be of far greater assistance to members if questions do not ask whether Ministers agree with all sorts of statements from all over the place, because it is very hard to pin down Ministers when they are asked for their opinions. Ministers are at liberty to give their opinions if they asked for their opinions. I can be of much greater assistance if a question asks for information. The information can be very telling in itself, and that is where I can be of much greater assistance to members.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a Programme for International Student Assessment report, which shows that 15-year-olds’ reading in New Zealand went from fourth in the world in 2006 to second in 2009.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement to Radio New Zealand National yesterday that as of Tuesday morning he had not had anyone specifically raise the issue of class sizes with him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
David Shearer: I would like to table a number of letters addressed to John Key and copied to me expressing a great deal of concern about the increase in class sizes.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.