Wellington’s Kindergarten teachers were reminded what’s at state at this year’s general election during a political debate at their annual conference on Monday night. Labour’s Chris Hipkins joined a panel including National and Green candidates. Questions to the panel ranged from training and support for early childhood teachers through to support for children and families living in poverty. Mr Hipkins said he was pleased to have the opportunity to highlight the Labour-led government’s track record in education and the work Labour has been doing to tackle child poverty and improve New Zealand’s economic standing.
“Just last week a report came out that showed that for the first time in decades the gap between rich and poor in New Zealand is closing. That’s in large part due to the policies Labour has put in place like Working for Families, increased superannuation payments, interest free student loans and free early childhood education. The report also showed that the number of children living below the poverty line is decreasing. That’s good news, but it also highlights there is more to be done” Chris Hipkins said.
“Ensuring all kiwi kids get a good start in life is a vital part of dealing with the challenges we face as a society. That’s why Labour has invested so much in education, particularly the early childhood sector. When Labour became government in 1999 our investment in early childhood education was $291 million. By 2011 it will be over $1.1 billion – a 278 percent increase. Unlike the National Party, we don’t think that’s wasted money that should have been spent on tax cuts; we think it’s a vital investment in our future.
Mr Hipkins challenged the assertion by Mr Whiteside that increased funding for education could be made available by cutting funding to the Ministry of Education.
“Most of the growth in the size of the Ministry of Education in recent years is due to the former Special Education Service and Early Childhood Development agencies being merged into the Ministry in 2002 and 2003. Special education staff work directly with schools and kids. They are the physiotherapists, the psychologists, the speech and language therapists, the tutors, the teacher aides and so forth. How many of these positions will National cut?” Mr Hipkins asked.
“The remainder of the growth in the Ministry of Education reflects the increased amount of support local schools get these days. There was a time when school boards and principals were left to sink or swim. That’s not the case anymore, there is a lot more help available to schools and from the feedback I’ve had from local school principals, they have welcomed that change.
Teachers at the conference also asked the panel what sort of support they could expect to get under a future government led by their party. They reminded the candidates that the last time the National Party was in government they tried to remove kindergarten teachers from the state sector.
“I’m really proud of Labour’s track record when it comes to supporting early childhood teachers,” Mr Hipkins said. “Labour has recognised that early childhood teaching is just as important as teaching in schools, that’s why we have delivered on pay parity for kindergarten teachers and introduced new requirements for teacher registration in all early childhood centres. We’ve also increased the amount of support available to those undergoing teacher training and those returning to the workforce after some time away,” Chris Hipkins said.
“It’s was pretty clear to everyone at the conference that the best way to ensure a bright future for education in our country is to vote Labour at this year’s election,” Mr Hipkins said.