Bill English launched National's election campaign at the Waitakere Trusts Arena on Sunday with the announcement of a $379 million plan to improve maths, technology and languages standards in schools.
Speaking to around 3,000 National party supporters at the West Auckland events centre, English said the plan included a revamped version of National Standards measures for school children that would allow parents to track more measures online. Primary school students would also be given the option to learn a second language, he announced.
Elsewhere in his speech, English attacked Labour and the rest of the opposition as an untested group with unpredictable and unclear policies.
"Their policies have two things in common – working groups and more taxes," English said. He then asked the crowd if they wanted a water tax, a new petrol tax, a new capital gains tax or higher income taxes. They responded each time with "No!"
"And neither do I. Hard working New Zealanders aren’t an ATM for the Labour Party," he said.
Elsewhere, Jacinda Ardern promised a Labour Government would spend $300 million to fast-track Christchurch's rebuild. The Greens promised to phase out single-use plastic bags and introduce a "cash for drinks containers" refund scheme.
There are 27 days to go until the election and Winston Peters has pledged to decide on who will be in Government within 20 days of the election -- October 12.
Education standards plan
English announced in the speech that a National Government would spend $379 million over four years on a collection of education policies to improve maths, technology and languages skills, along with a new online system for monitoring a wider set of National Standards.
“Nothing can replace the thousands of motivated, professional teachers. But we can improve the tools they use and the support we give them to lift educational standards," he said.
Labour has pledged to scrap the system of National Standards.
National would provide every primary school student with the opportunity to learn a second language. It would improve maths skills of primary school students by increasing teachers' skills, providing extra classroom resources like digital apps, and delivering intensive support for students. National would create Digital Academies and Digital Internships to give year 12 and 13 students work-based learning opportunities that could turn into IT careers.
English said National Standards would be extended and provide more information about how students are progressing through the year, with that information available immediately online for children and parents.
“National Standards provides a valuable snap-shot of how your child has performed across the year. National Standards Plus will build on this by allowing you to track your child’s progress in more detail, online, as it happens," he said.
The new funding included $354 million of funding over four years, plus a $25 million one-off investment in systems to extend National Standards.
10 priority languages
Education Minister Nikki Kaye later said the digital academies would be similar to Trades Academies and offer specialised, IT-focused learning for 1000 students a year to gain relevant NCEA credits. The academies would cost $48 million over four years.
A further $126 million would be spent over four years to improve student achievement in maths at primary school, with the aim of having 80 percent of 13 years at or above National Standards by 2021. The Government would provide 1,200 fully funded places for teachers to undertake university-level papers targeted at teaching maths to primary students.
Kaye said National would spend $160 million over four years to provide schools and Communities of Learning with more expert language teachers, language specialists and online resources.
“At least 10 priority languages for the programme will be set following consultation with communities, with Mandarin, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean likely to be included, along with Te Reo and New Zealand Sign Language," Kaye said.
“It will be up to school boards to decide which languages will be taught in each school, but they will be required to offer at least one second language to their students."
Kaye and English later told journalists some schools would be able to offer the second language education immediately, while others could take a year or two to introduce the option. Kaye said she would not set an arbitrary timeline.
Fast-tracking Christchurch's rebuild
Meanwhile, in Christchurch, Jacinda Ardern announced a Labour Government would create a $300 million capital fund to accelerate Christchurch's rebuild.
“Labour is putting $300 million on the table, ready to be accessed for projects that will provide benefits for the city’s future. In partnership with the Christchurch City Council, this fund will be subject to compelling business cases showing strong potential for economic, environmental or social returns to the city," Ardern said.
Labour would also negotiate a global settlement with the Christchurch City Council, settling the long-term ownership and funding for the anchor projects.
Labour would also commit $100 million for public transport for Greater Christchurch, including commuter rail from Rolleston to the CBD and restore full democracy to Environment Canterbury.
Ardern also pledged to create an arbitration tribunal with inquisitorial focus to resolve insurance disputes. It would be a fast-track process with no delays at the request of insurance companies and would decide claims based on "equity and good conscience". The tribunal would allow compensation for distress caused by undue delays.
'Turning trash into cash'
Elsewhere, the Greens announced plans to ban single-use plastic bags within three years, to introduce a drinking container refund programme and to commit to sending zero waste to landfills by 2050.
A Green Government would introduce an immediate 20 cent charge on single-use plastic bags, with 15 cents going to community groups for environmental clean-ups and five cents for research and development for alternatives.
Jacinda Ardern is visiting Christchurch today and is expected to detail Labour's commitment to Christchurch's new covered stadium. National committed $120 million this week.
August 31 - The first leaders debate on TVNZ.
September 4 - TV3 has its leaders debate.
September 7 - The Press/Stuff leaders debate will be held in Christchurch
September 11 - Polling booths open for early voting.
September 20 - The final leaders debate on TVNZ.
September 23 - The General Election.
October 12 - Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he 'crowns' to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned.
(Updated at 4 pm)