The Government yesterday announced a ratio reduction in classrooms for Years 4-8. Photo / 123rf
Reducing class sizes by one student is simply not enough to create meaningful change, say two Northland principals.
The Government yesterday announced a reduction in class sizes from a ratio of 29 students per teacher to 28 from years 4 to 8, in hopes that will help improve low literacy and numeracy skills and take the load off overworked teachers.
The shift is set to have been completed by the beginning of 2025.
Te Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association President Pat Newman said that “every reduction is useful” but a single student per class isn’t going to have a large impact.
He would like to see class numbers reduced more but said he “suspects” the Government hasn’t pushed lower because of a significant shortage of teachers.
“It’s not just a matter of doing quick training and getting them in,” he said. “They will find the staffing if they start to pay the teachers as they should be – it’s as simple as that.”
He said making education an “honourable” profession that young people want to go into again is the key to attracting more teachers.
“They need to think why is it that teaching is no longer such a desirable job,” he said.
Monday’s announcement explained that the ratio drop aims to give teachers more time to focus on teaching, and targeting Year 4-8 was key because that’s when literacy and numeracy grades begin to decline.
The 2019 National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement found in writing, 63 per cent of students were achieving at the expected level in Year 4, dropping to only 35 per cent achieving as expected by Year 8.
For reading, the corresponding numbers were 63 per cent at Year 4, dropping to 56 per cent by Year 8.
Newman said reducing class numbers at such a small rate isn’t going to make much of a difference.
“Literacy and numeracy skills will improve when politicians stop playing around with their pet theories every three years and changing how we do things,” he said.
Monday’s announcement highlighted how funding was readily available to bring teachers in from overseas, something Whangārei Intermediate School Principal Hayley Read called “helpful”, but it would be “more significant” to have those who know the culture and language.
“There’s a lot of children who are struggling,” she said, “we need staff that know the students, the culture and know how to relate to these children.”
She said a reduction in class size is a start, but not enough for what’s actually needed.
“One student isn’t going to help reduce the workload for our teachers,” she said. “To make a significant change they would need to reduce it by I’d say another three.”
She said currently teachers are dealing with a “diverse range” of learners and “can’t get close enough to the students”.
Alongside the commitment from the government to reduce class size, Education Minister Jan Tinetti also announced that a Ministerial Advisory Group would be created to look at class sizes over a longer period.
The reduction of one teacher to every 28 students in Years 4 to 8 is estimated to cost $106 million over five years.