So, National has a "new" education policy, and what is it? A return to the same tired old policies that were tried - and failed - in the 80's. Bulk funding, so the government can wipe its hands of the last shreds of its responsibility to ensure that everyone has equal access to a decent education (or at least equal access to teachers) - not to mention hide underfunding and dump blame on the local board; smashing the unions, so they can drive the cost (and quality) down; and of course abolishing zoning, so that children can be forced to travel miles for a basic education rather than go to their local school. All this has been roundly criticised by parents, teachers, and principals - those with an actual stake in the education system. But what hasn't been criticised is the overwhelming thrust of the scheme - which is to funnel public money into private pockets so as to enrich National's mates in the business community - and the way educational outcomes have been sacrificed to this goal.
The headline of the policy is the introduction of national literacy and maths standards, coupled with testing for primary school children to ensure that those standards are met. Let's ignore the fact that we already have testing, and that there's no problem with identifying the children who are struggling, and move on to what National proposes be done with those who fail to make the grade. Rather than funnelling them into the internationally acclaimed Reading Recovery programme (and resourcing it properly to cope with the increased load), National instead proposes giving them vouchers to purchase private tuition - in other words, taking money out of schools and giving it to an industry which has no standards, and which must pay not just for the cost of service delivery, but also a profit margin. The chief beneficiaries of this move will not be children, but the owners of Kip McGrath.
Then there's their promise to boost government funding to "independent" (meaning private) schools. Again, these are profit-making entities, and the primary beneficiary will be their owners. Also advantaged will be the children of the rich, who will effectively be getting a fat subsidy for abandoning the public education system.
But we should also ask where National is going with this policy - and the destination is obvious. The shift to running schools through a community trust effectively turns them into private entities; allowing them to cannibalise "underperforming" schools will mean that we will end up with a small number of competing educational corporations, probably regional monopolies. If this sounds familiar, it's because it is what was done in the electricity sector - and the end result was the sale of much of the industry into private hands. In other words, National is gearing up for a full-scale privatisation of the public education system. Is that really what we want?