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Unions split over revised staffing model

New Zealand schools will be staffed on a new model from next year which will put an extra 800 teachers into the system and reduce class sizes.

But the three-year, $140 million (Pounds 58m) proposal, which reintroduces a controversial salary bulk-funding option for schools, has been condemned by the secondary teachers' union, the Post Primary Teachers Association.

The government had accepted the key recommendations of the ministerial reference group (MRG), set up to eliminate the anomalies of the current staffing schedules. Two-thirds of schools will have better teacher-student ratios as a result of the streamlined formula.

Under the new model, all schools will be given a core staffing entitlement, based on curriculum and management needs, and dependent on student numbers at different class levels. The formula gives a ratio of 1:23 for the first three years of primary school; a ratio of 1:29 for years 4 to 8; 1:25 for years 9 and 10 (third and fourth form); 1:23 for year 11; and 1:18 and 1:17 for years 12 and 13 (sixth and seventh form) respectively.

Isolated rural schools will have access to funding for innovative teaching initiatives, while secondary schools will be eligible for money to set up more expensive tertiary-level programmes.

In one controversial recommendation, schools can choose to be centrally staffed or "directly resourced" (bulk-funded) for salaries, with the option of changing after three years. Schools that choose bulk funding will receive a grant - which will be based on the new staffing formula - for paying all their teachers.

The package has the qualified support of the primary teachers' union, the NZEI, but the secondary teachers' union, the PPTA, has vowed to fight it. The NZEI is unhappy about the resurrection of bulk-funding, but its representative on the reference group, Bruce Adin, said the total deal, which will see an extra 700 teachers in primary schools, was too good to pass up.

The PPTA refused to sign the report, saying the staffing model was flawed, and does not meet the needs of secondary schools. If implemented, it would cut teacher numbers in small schools, rural schools and many with high numbers of Maori pupils. It presented its own formula as an alternative but says the education ministry has ignored it.

* Early intervention, more guidance and counselling services, and an electronic database to keep track of pupils are among the recommendations of an inquiry into "at-risk'' children in New Zealand schools.

The 100-page report on children thought likely to suffer truancy and behavourial problems was tabled in parliament on Tuesday after a year-long investigation by the education select committee.

The committee was particularly concerned by evidence pointing to an increase in dysfunctional, at-risk families "which, in turn, produce at-risk children who are unable to benefit effectively from the schooling system and who are likely to perpetuate a cycle of disadvantage."

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