Labour has appeared in the news a couple of times in the past few weeks announcing new education policies, while National seems to be lacking an official education manifesto on their website. With the polls showing the margin between our two major parties is getting narrower, young people should consider adding education policy to their determining factors in which way they vote.

So, what are these new policy announcements from Labour? They’ve got a school leaver’s toolkit, which is aimed at teaching students how to drive, budget, and understand civics, which seem like skills to gain at high school. Currently these things are optional for schools to offer if they can, but apparently, the policy would be funded by a Labour government, meaning many state schools unable to currently offer the programmes would be in a better position to offer them.

Secondly, Labour state they will abolish the hotly debated National Standards programme. The National Standards are essentially a way of measuring the progress of years 1-8 students, and trying to make sure that each student reaches a certain level while they are at school. It took a lot of time and effort to implement, and in theory the purpose is a good idea – making sure all Kiwis have a basic level of education is beneficial to us all. As many other countries before have found, the problem comes in implementing the programme, with many teachers and parents believing we shouldn’t be testing our students so much. It is a measurement tool, not a method to improve achievement. So, is it a good idea to abolish it? With Labour not knowing what they would replace it with, it’s a little bit of a gamble.

Currently we have a bit of a quasi-market in education – schools act as businesses offering a service, which many parents pay for in the form of a voluntary donation. Labour are pledging to give an extra $150 per student to the school if they don’t ask for voluntary donations. This will be a significant increase in funding for some schools who receive very little in donations, which definitely will have positive effects. Other schools who raise millions, and charge up to $1,000 per student in donations, will surely continue to seek donations rather than a government contribution.

The final notable point in Labour’s education manifesto is the pledge to introduce three free years of post-secondary education. This would significantly reduce the costs of going to university for a Bachelor’s degree, and definitely would help a lot of students to become more educated. It’s good that a lot of funding is going into tertiary education, but when we still have students not achieving basic numeracy and literacy standards, something more must be done there. Those students won’t even be able to take advantage of tertiary education without a solid foundation in education. That solid foundation starts in early childhood, and something both parties aren’t highlighting is the commitments they will make to early childhood education.

If we look now at National’s education policies, what we can expect from a National government is things continuing the way they are at the moment. National’s education page emphasises one major policy – communities of learning. These are ways of schools sharing resources and ideas, in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Is this a good thing, and is it worth it? With gaping holes in achievement of Māori and Pasifika students (discussed here) we should question whether specific policies addressing this issue would be of a higher priority than creating communities of learning. National is going to keep the education model we currently have, making tweaks to it as they see fit.

So, the big question – which way to vote? If you’re happy with how things are currently going in education, National is a safe choice, but if you’re looking for change (albeit unclear as to what we are actually changing to) then Labour could be the best bet. And of course, there are the minor parties which we haven’t explored here, which all have education policies.


This post is part of a series of election-related articles where we discuss different political parties and highlight issues that are of particular concern to youth. 


JACK GOLDINGHAM NEWSOM is the founder of Thynke, who help students to succeed beyond what they thought possible. In creating Thynke, he set out a vision to help young people be informed about their education, and knowledgeable about the skills and competencies they need to develop to be change-makers in the 21st century. Check out what they offer on their website, You can also follow these links to check out more of Jack’s work for TEARAWAY:

Five Tips for Busting Exam Stress

The Top Four Ways to Start Studying Effectively

Educational Inequality is Not Okay

Thinking About Education: Is a Student Perspective Needed?