Hipkins at the helm

November 2017


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JUDE BARBACK catches up with new Education Minister Chris Hipkins to find out how he’s finding his new role.

It’s been pretty amazing,” says Chris Hipkins of his first few weeks as the new Minister of Education.

It’s a job he’s been eyeing up for some time now. Nine years is a long time for an MP in opposition with big ideas.

Mere months ago we talked at length about Labour’s education manifesto, debating the ‘what ifs’ of abolishing National Standards, charter schools and tertiary education fees. Today’s chat is less hypothetical. The big ideas he shared with me then are now making headlines as they become reality. Our chat is also more succinct. He’s got a lot to crack on with.

Hipkins has certainly wasted no time in setting the ball rolling to get rid of National Standards, or at least the downsides of National Standards.

“We’ve had some amazing feedback from teachers,” he says, of his plans to scrap the system.

Hipkins believes the sector is excited to have a Minister who trusts and values teachers. Teachers already have a wide array of tools to assess children’s progress, he says. It’s time to trust them to use them.

He’s keen for teachers to return their focus to The New Zealand Curriculum and its learning progression levels. In response to calls to relaunch the curriculum, he agrees there’s room for a refresh.

Despite all the confusion around charter schools, he assures me the plan remains to discontinue the charter school model and deal with each school on a case by case basis.

One of the hallmarks of Labour’s manifesto was its intention to establish a long-term strategic plan for education. Hipkins is committed to getting stuck into this early next year; however, it strikes me that although it is a laudable idea, it is rather shrewd to make all the big changes first.

Certainly, he’s already made a dent in his sizeable ‘to do’ list, announcing some big-ticket changes for nearly every level of education. While other Ministers within the new government appear to be slow in coming to grips with their new portfolios, it is fair to say Hipkins has hit the ground running.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he says, of his first few weeks in the sector’s top job.  

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