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PM Christopher Luxon and Education Minister Erica Stanford outline Government’s six education priorities at post-Cabinet press conference

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Schools who flout the newly-introduced cell phone ban will be face consequences, with the Prime Minister warning they will be audited by the Education Review Office.

Education Minister Erica Stanford has set out her top six priorities in education and promised announcements in the coming weeks, saying “fundamental changes” were needed to improve achievement statistics.

Stanford and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon are speaking at the weekly post-Cabinet conference.

Stanford said her briefing as incoming minister referenced how the education system was not leading to excellent or equitable outcomes.

”The reality that we face is quite stark, I can’t sugarcoat it.”

Stanford said her six priorities were a clearer curriculum, a focus on literacy and numeracy, especially at the early stage of schooling, more consistent assessment and achievement reporting, better teacher training, targeted support for students with additional needs, and more use of data and evidence to drive improvements.

Many of the priorities announced today are included in the Government’s action plan until the end of June and Stanford said the first announcement would come later this week.

She said she also intended to work closely with Māori representatives to develop a Māori education work programme.

“Expectations for strengthened educational outcomes and achievement for tamariki and rangatahi Māori is a shared bottom line.”

Education Minister Erica Stanford outlines her six education priorities at today's post-Cabinet press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Erica Stanford outlines her six education priorities at today’s post-Cabinet press conference. Photo / Mark Mitchell

She said the initial focus was on achievement, attendance, and engagement.

Stanford pointed to the steps already taken, including the ban on cellphones in schools which began today, truancy measures and requiring schools to teach an hour of reading, writing and mathematics.

She said the Government had set an “ambitious target” to reach 80 per cent of Year 8 students at or above the expected curriculum level for their age in reading, writing and maths by December 2030.

“For parents, these priorities will give them confidence their children are receiving quality education that will set them up for future success in further study or employment.

Schools flouting cell phone ban to face ERO audits, PM warns

The ban on cellphones in schools was one of National’s election promises, along with its policy to require schools to teach at least one hour of maths, writing and reading each day.

It came into effect today, the start of term two.

Stanford said schools not complying with the ban would get a visit from the Education Review Office. She said schools would have different ways to enforce it and was confident the ban was working, claiming she’d received reports from librarians that more students were taking out books.

She criticised the current school curriculum as “high-level” and “vague”, which had forced teachers to figure it out for themselves.

Stanford said work programmes in each of the priority areas would take place with an announcement set for this week.

She hinted at a Budget-related announcement about how the Government would incentivise teachers to join and stay in the industry. She wouldn’t give any details.

Luxon told media declining school achievement had been the thing that had worried him the most upon entering Government.

He referenced how the Government’s school cellphone ban became mandatory from today.

Asked about his former school Howick College not enforcing the now mandatory ban, Luxon chose to focus on how he thought it was a “fantastic policy”. He said schools that didn’t follow the ban would be audited by ERO.

Luxon accuses previous government of leaving ‘fiscal cliffs’ on Pharmac

He said the previous Government not allocating financial resources for Pharmac in the previous Budget was “irresponsible”. It comes after the current Government committed to $1.7 billion in new funding over the next four years.

Luxon defended his claim that the previous Labour Government had left a fiscal cliff with respect to Pharmac funding. However, he wouldn’t go as far as guaranteeing all items in the upcoming Budget would contain no fiscal cliffs.

”You’ll have to wait to see our Budget.”

He later confirmed all programmes in his Budget would be fully-funded for four years.

Luxon wouldn’t answer whether more funding would be in the Budget for new drugs to be funded by Pharmac, but said there would be more money for health in general.

He also wouldn’t discuss what the Government’s position was on the state of prescription co-payments. National campaigned on bringing the co-payment back after it had been dropped by the previous government.

On Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ foreign policy speech this week, which is expected to clarify the Government’s position on the AUKUS security pact, Luxon said it hadn’t gone through Cabinet but he had a “sense” of what Peters would say.

Luxon said the speech didn’t need to go through Cabinet and he believed Peters was doing a “fantastic job”.

On James Shaw’s valedictory, Luxon said he would be attending. Asked whether he considered negotiating with the Greens after the election, Luxon said it was “very obvious” Shaw’s other colleagues and members didn’t want to engage with National.

The House this week would debate annual reviews in various areas including finance, health and education. Tomorrow, there would be a debate to honour the late Green MP Efeso Collins. Former Green co-leader James Shaw would give his final speech in the House on Wednesday.

During today’s press conference, Luxon is also expected to be asked about an early pre-Budget announcement of $1.7 billion more for Pharmac, and Act leader David Seymour’s comments about Luxon’s ability to sack an Act Party minister.

Seymour said it would be an act of bad faith and breach of the coalition agreement for Luxon to unilaterally sack any Act minister. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Seymour said it would be an act of bad faith and breach of the coalition agreement for Luxon to unilaterally sack any Act minister. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Seymour said it would be an act of bad faith and breach of the coalition agreement for Luxon to unilaterally sack any Act minister.

While the coalition agreement does not contain specific provisions for disciplining or sacking an Act or NZ First minister, it requires parties to deal with serious issues on a ‘no surprises’ basis and with consultation. It also requires all ministers to abide by the Cabinet manual.

The question arose after Luxon demoted two of his own ministers last week – Melissa Lee and Penny Simmonds.

Luxon removed the media portfolio from Lee and Disability Issues from Simmonds, saying “complexities” in those areas warranted giving them to more senior politicians.

It followed Lee’s struggle to respond to developments in the media sector, including the demise of Newshub and cuts to news and current affairs at TVNZ.

Paul Goldsmith is now Media and Communications Minister, while Louise Upston has picked up Disability Issues. Neither of the demoted ministers have spoken publicly since the changes, beyond releasing a short statement saying Luxon was right to make the changes.

The cellphone ban has had mixed reviews from school students and the sector, but Luxon has stood by it, saying it was aimed at reducing distractions in the classroom as part of his overall goal of lifting achievement of students.

Education features strongly in the coalition government’s action plan up to the end of June. It has set longer-term targets of getting regular school attendance up to 80 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent of year 8 students up to the expected curriculum level in maths, reading and writing by the same year.

Its plans for the next two months include starting work on structured literacy for junior students, boosting teacher training, starting to develop standardised assessment, and legislation to bring back charter schools. It has already taken steps on truancy.

Stanford told Newstalk ZB this morning that schools already using the cellphone ban had told her it was stemming online bullying and activities such as filming fights for social media.

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