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Speech and PR from Trevor Mallard to Principals

RT HON TREVOR MALLARD

SPEECH TO NEW ZEALAND PRINCIPALS ASSOCIATION
FRIDAY 18TH MARCH

Thank you for your welcome.

This is my first keynote address in the education portfolio since becoming Minister nine weeks ago. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you as an organisation for the support and advice you gave me in helping to develop the policy which will form the framework for our developments in education during this term of government.

I'd also like to thank the individual principals whose schools I visited, or whose meetings I attended. I have always appreciated the free and frank discussions I have had in school staffrooms and at principals' meetings. And while there is no doubt that my time is a bit more of scarce commodity these days, I am determined that I will continue to visit schools on a regular basis and maintain the dialogue with people working at the grassroots of education.

I also hope that you will extend invitations to my Associate Ministers who work with me on policies that affect schools. In particular Lianne Dalziel who has been given the delegation for special education, and Parekura Horomia who will be responsible for school transport and for Maori education.

I must add here that the Government sees closing the social and economic gaps that have developed between Maori and Pacific peoples and other New Zealanders as a major priority. The Prime Minister has established and chairs a Cabinet committee to oversee the work in this area. Both Parekura and I are members of that committee. I know that Parekura will also constantly make sure that any decisions I make in the education area reflect this priority. Parekura also has a rural background that I know will balance my urban background. Some of you might have heard or read his maiden speech when he reminisced about walking 5km to school and watching the school bus pass him by, and commented on the irony of now being the Minister responsible for those buses.

Those of you who have met Lianne will know how fortunate I am to be working with an associate of her calibre. Lianne is passionate about helping individuals who are less able to help themselves. She will be a tireless advocate within Cabinet for children with special learning needs. And her legal training gives her a good grounding for dealing with some of the more complex issues associated with special education.

I'd also like to mention Steve Maharey. Steve's responsibilities are in the tertiary and industry training areas so you won't see as much of him in your circles, but he is a valued member of our education team.

I'd like to start off talking a bit about early childhood education. That might seem a bit unusual given that you are an audience of primary school principals. But I see early childhood education as integral to our closing the gaps ideology. I have maintained responsibility for early childhood education within my office and am working with officials and with the early childhood sector on ways to improve quality and increase participation in early childhood education.

Primary school teachers, and in particular those in the junior classes, often tell me how noticeable the difference is between children who have participated in quality early childhood education, and those who have not. I'm working on a number of initiatives in early childhood education to go into this year's Budget round. They include provision of buildings in low socio-economic areas, funding to help community groups meet licensing standards, and the first work on setting the Diploma of Teaching as the minimum benchmark qualification for licensing purposes.

I hope that you will reap the benefits of these initiatives in years to come.

But now to some changes and proposals that impact on you and your sector in the more immediate future. None of these should be a huge surprise to you. This Government is committed to following through on the promises we made while in Opposition. We were regarded as a cautious Opposition. We were certainly careful not to promise the World and not to make commitments we didn't believe we could fulfil. It's made our job in Government easier, as we have moved into the Beehive with a clear policy direction and clear and open agenda.

Some of the results of that work have already been announced, others I will give you an update on today.

Supplementary Grant

It gave me great pleasure to be able to approve the extension of the supplementary funding entitlement to all primary school principals rather than just those on individual employment contracts.

You will know, better than I, how the change will affect you personally. But I am pleased that as Education Minister I had the opportunity to demonstrate, within the public sector, the Government's commitment to collective bargaining.

Some of you will choose to stay on an Individual Employment Contract and certainly that is your right. But I know that many of you – those on collective contracts and those on IECs – felt the unfairness of a system whereby the Government financially rewarded only those schools whose principals either broke away from the collective or were not allowed to be a part of it.

National Testing

In one of the first media interviews I did when I was as Minister of Education, I was asked about National Testing.

Would the new Government continue with the pilot that was to start this year?

I answered no.

As outlined in the election manifesto for both the Labour and Alliance Parties – national testing in primary schools is not going to go ahead. There was no grand announcement, there was not even a press release.

While that decision was made quickly once we were in Government, it is an issue that I have spent considerable time and energy considering over the past two years. We are certainly aware of the considerable desire among the parental community to know how well their children are doing at school – within a school, nationwide, and even internationally.

But is national testing the answer?

I have been convinced by education experts – both academics and those working at the coalface – that it is not. I'd like to say here that I completely reject the ignorant suggestion that our opposition to national testing is guided by teachers who oppose it because it means more work for them. It seems fairly obvious to me that it would be much easier to put a piece of paper in front of a child and leave them to sit a test than it would be to conduct a comprehensive assessment programme.

I have asked the Ministry of Education to examine an approach to externally referenced assessment in primary schools which is not limited to a one-off test. This is partly an issue of teacher workload. There is some great work being done on assessment. That work needs to be pulled together and assessment tools and methods that are working well need to be shared.

I also support the notion of schools providing reliable information to parents. Work is underway on the style in which schools should report six monthly on literacy and numeracy.

Those reports must be easy to understand and provide parents with the information they can use to help their child.

There is huge potential in using information technology to ensure the speedy transfer of that information when a child switches schools. When a new pupil turns up at your school, it seems pointless to me that you spend days - and sometimes weeks - chasing up information on what progress they have made at their previous schools.

As Minister of State Services, and acting Minister of Information Technology, I have an added interest in seeing that Government and government agencies utilise technology sensibly and effectively. We simply can't afford another INCIS.

But I have been horrified by stories like a seven-year-old who turned up at a school one day and it was the ninth school he has been too. I think better use of IT can relieve some of the problems that situations like that create. Although, I think the Government's housing policy of lowering rentals on state houses will have an even greater benefit on a case study like that.

Legislation

Work is currently underway on legislation to be introduced to Parliament within the next couple of months. Without giving away too much detail, let me outline some of the issues it will cover.

School enrolment schemes

This Government considers that students have an absolute right to attend their neighbourhood school. There is no use promoting choice when a parent does not have the fundamental choice to send their child to the local school.

We also support more transparency and fairness in relation to out of zone enrolments. This means that siblings should be given priority and other enrolments should be decided on ballot.

The current system can result in a waste of resources where some communities have schools with significant numbers of spare places while other schools are over capacity. We intend to optimise the use of school property by stopping schools from growing through out of zone enrolments.

Governance

There will also be a number of changes to the Education Act to improve the operations of boards of trustees.

Boards have an important role to play in education. However there are difficulties that boards face in some communities. These can include having insufficient people standing for election and high turnover of board members with the inevitable loss of experience that this entails.

New legislation will:

provide for staggering of board elections so that not all board members are replaced at the same time,
remove the current limit of 4 schools on agreed board amalgamations to govern clusters of schools,
clarify staff and principal representation when boards are amalgamated, and
allow schools that have merged to hold an earlier election for additional members.

Bulk Funding

Our policy of abolishing bulk funding from the beginning of next year will also be incorporated into the first piece of education legislation.

Bulk funding has been one of the most divisive and destructive issues in education. While some schools have no doubt enjoyed the benefits of bulk funding it has led to an unfair distribution of funding between schools and it did not recognise the educational needs of schools. Over time bulk funding would have exacerbated the problems of schools in poorer areas in recruiting and retaining the best teachers.

But I don't want to disregard the positive aspects of bulk funding – namely the extra funding and the flexibility. We have agreed to allocate all the money which National had earmarked for bulk funding to all schools.

You will have the flexibility to use that money for staffing or operational costs but we will continue to operate a central staffing formula to ensure that schools maintain minimum staffing requirements. Schools will receive more information about the formula for this later in the year.

In the interim, the Government intends to make a one-off payment to centrally resourced schools in the current financial school year using the unspent amount budgeted for bulk funding this year. I will be making an announcement on this shortly.

General resourcing

A few additional points covering some more general resourcing issues
I remain committed to ensuring that operation grants are increased annually in line with inflation;
I remain dedicated to the view that the Government's responsibility should be to a strong state education system over propping up private schools and I have reiterated our intention that private school funding will be capped. There will be no new places on the TIE scheme from next year.
I have already acted on my view that a Minister of Education should not be too loose in granting integrated status to schools. There is a place in the state education system for integrated schools and I believe the law in this regard has been tightened up adequately. I intend to follow that law. Integrated schools will be required to prove they have special character and they must complement the state system rather than compete against it.

Staffing

As promised, we are also setting up a working party on staffing to report back within 12 months with a staged plan of improvements to the current regime for staffing.

I represent an urban electorate and I visit schools in my own electorate on a regular basis. So during the time I was an opposition spokesperson on education, if I was allowed out of Wellington, I made a special effort to visit rural and isolated schools. I take my hat off to the staff in those schools. They face some challenges that the general public is largely unaware of. It is a huge job to deliver the curriculum to a class which may have students from half a dozen year levels in it. Just because a school is 10% of the size of a bigger school does not mean that 90% of the administrative work disappears. In small secondary and area schools the challenges are even greater and it makes delivering the curriculum adequately almost impossible.

It is for reasons like this that small rural schools will be a priority in the staffing review.

And it is for this reason that I am announcing today that the usual 1 March roll revision at primary schools with rolls of under 160 students will not be applied this year in cases where the school’s roll has fallen.

When it is likely that there will be relief for small schools following this review, it does not make sense for some schools to lose staff because of roll drop. It could, for example, mean that they have to go through the agony of losing a teacher, only to find that they are entitled to re-employ that teacher next year or the year after.

However, this change will not affect schools with a roll of 160 students or more, or where surplus staffing provisions were notified before the end of last year.
I also want the review to focus on the needs of low decile schools. That of course will be part of the Government's closing the gaps strategy.


Professional development

I also have a strong belief in the need for professional development and support for teachers. It is central to achieving a high quality teaching force. While there are clearly issues to sort out regarding pre-service teacher education, it is important to recognise that the majority of teachers who will front classrooms over the next generation are already teaching, so it is important to update and develop the skills of those already in the system,

As the pace of change quickens so too do the demands on education to respond. Teachers will need to upgrade their skills and knowledge to meet these new demands. Schools will have ideas and priorities for professional development but I think the Government also has a responsibility. It is the schools sector as a whole that benefits from widespread professional development – not just the school that a particular teach happens to be working in at the time. Therefore there is a need for central, non-contestable funding of professional development and I intend to secure that.

The Ministry of Education is to report back to me with new options for 2001 and beyond. These options will take into account the range of school and teacher needs and ways of ensuring that teachers get good value from additional funding.

I also want to explore more fully what professional development needs principals have. The Ministry of Education has already carried out preliminary work on principals' leadership and management capability. It is an issue that both principals and boards feel needs to be addressed from a more central perspective. Already there is a wide range of education, training and professional development options available to principals and aspiring principals. But we do need to look further whether there are gaps that need to be addressed. This is a particular area that I would welcome feedback from you. This morning I gave my approval for the Ministry to conduct more detailed consultation with the sector on this issue.

Conclusion

It's been a busy nine weeks. As I said earlier, I don't think any of this will have been a surprise to you. We have worked hard in the last few years in consulting and communicating with a wide range of sector groups to develop a policy which considered the education needs of all New Zealanders. Now I would like to open up for the floor for questions.

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