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Mallard: Speech to Secondary Principals

Minister of Education

Speech to the Secondary Principals' Association Annual Conference

Queenstown

Thursday 30 March 2000

Embargoed until 10.30am


Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

I'm still in the 'new Minister' stage of going through a lot of 'firsts' and this is no exception. This is my first speech to a secondary school principals' audience. It is good to see so many familiar faces in the audience.

I met many of you while travelling the country as the Labour Opposition spokesperson on education. I found my visits to schools invaluable in developing Labour's education policy. That policy is now the base of the Government's education policy.

So thank you to 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 in your studies. 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. Lianne Dalziel has the delegation for special education, and Parekura Horomia is responsible for school transport and for Maori education.

Steve Maharey is working in the tertiary education area, but you may come across him in areas like careers advice, the transition between school and work and when you look at the new apprenticeships programme.

I have retained responsibility for teacher education. There are obvious issues like loans and allowances that come under Steve's umbrella, but I feel that teacher education is a crucial component of the compulsory education sector and policy decision in that area should be closely related to what's happening in schools.

It's been 16 weeks tomorrow since I became Minister of Education and I think it's probably been the busiest time of my life. It's also been one of the most satisfying. After several years in Opposition it is good to be able to work through policy areas and to actually know that the end stage is implementation.

We've been busy so there's no shortage of subjects to talk about today and I'm sure you won't have difficulties thinking of questions to ask afterwards.

Legislation

Two days ago, legislation was introduced to Parliament that includes changes in three major areas - bulk funding, enrolment schemes and school governance. The legislation will be debated next week and then be referred to select committee for consideration.

School enrolment schemes

Under this legislation, the right of parents to send their child to their neighbourhood school will be enshrined in the law. If they wish to go elsewhere they can, but local children will always have priority. Where there are more outside-zone children wishing to attend a school than there are places available, ballots will decide who gets to attend - with siblings given priority.

We will never be able to satisfy everyone. If two students from outside a school zone want to go to a particular state school but there is only one place available, one student is going to miss out. The Government believes those children should be given an equal chance through a ballot system rather than schools choosing which child they want.

Bulk Funding

Also under this legislation is our policy to end the bulk funding of teacher salaries. There is a range of opinion on this issue and I'm sure that range is reflected in this room.

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.

I'd also give some advice to the Act education spokesperson who is trying to incite bulk funded schools to take legal action against the Government. It is a core responsibility of the Government to fund schools, and to determine the funding system that it feels is fairest to the entire school sector, and that is what we are doing through this legislation. I regret that some money voted for education was used to pay for lawyers. I understand that the advice explained the role of government in setting policy.

The extra money and to a lesser extent, the flexibility, are the two major reasons given for schools' support for bulk funding. I am working on changes to incorporate that flexibility into the new funding formula and will make announcements on that later this year. As for the money - well I can only say that there will be significantly more money in the schools sector next year than there is this year so more schools will be able to introduce some of the 'extras' that bulk funded schools have enjoyed.

Some of you may have already caught up with the news that details of the one-off payment to centrally-resourced schools were made public yesterday. Depending on the efficiency of New Zealand Post the letters outlining how much you'll receive will be at your schools either today or tomorrow. Already my office has had complaints from bulk funded schools about why the payment was restricted to centrally-resourced schools. The answer is simple. Bulk funded schools have already had their share of the extra money set aside by National to entice schools into bulk funding. This is the leftovers as a result of fewer schools than National anticipated opting into bulk funding.

It is not as much as many schools would have got had they switched to bulk funding. I wish it could be more. But it is $15.1 million that would have been sent back to Treasury under National's rules.

Ministry officials are currently working through the formula that will be used next year and you will know what funding you will receive by the end of August. I can tell you that for non bulk funded schools it will be significantly more than the one off payment.

Governance

I am pleased there will also be some changes to school governance which provides some flexibility within the school board structure.

Of particular interest to you is that we will allow for voluntary staggered board elections for half the parent representatives every eighteen months. The main reason for this is to help schools avoid situations where all their parent representative members are new after an election.

We're also bringing back students' right to an elected representative on secondary schools' boards of trustees.

I know most of you - 73% to be more precise - do have student representatives on your boards. They can make a valuable contribution to the running of a school and I think the students have a right to having a democratically elected member.

Under these changes, student elections will be held by October of each year. This will enable a 'hand over and training' period from one years' representative to the next. An October election will also ensure the student representative is well established in their role before the next school year begins.

NCEA

Moving on to other matters now.

One of the decisions I have made this year which is perhaps of most interest to you is the extension of the timetable for the introduction of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement.

It was not an easy decision to make but on balance there was a risk that teachers are not entirely confident in the training and support they will have had. I've been heartened by the overall response to the decision. It would be fair to say that there has been a wide a range of responses to it from principals - from a letter saying that the decision 'sucks' to delighted letters from people trying to seize an opportunity to relitigate the whole issue. I think there's probably a similar range of opinion among people sitting in this room right now.

Let me say quite clearly that I am not opening the door to go backwards. There has been too much disruption in senior secondary school qualifications over the past two decades for me to feel comfortable about opening the can of worms again.

And this new certificate can solve long-standing problems at senior secondary school level. It has all the best elements of the traditional examination system: externality; fairness; rigour.

At the same time it recognises that there are great many skills and abilities that examinations can't measure and that employers want to know about.

I believe that the record of learning associated with the NCEA will provide a comprehensive record of student achievement and a student's assessed strengths and weaknesses.

For example, knowing a student got merit in arithmetic and statistics, and a pass in measurement, but did not reach the required standards in algebra or geometry, is very much more useful than knowing only that the student got 53% in mathematics. In the NCEA conventional subjects will be reported both ways - if a mark is your preferred way of reporting, you can use it. If you want more information, it will be there.

So to anyone hoping to get the Government to back away from the proposed changes - I'm sorry to disappoint you.

But I hope that you will support my objective to advance on some fairly comprehensive professional development for teachers. We do need to do as much as possible to ensure teachers are confident in their knowledge and skills and are ready to undertake the internal assessments that are needed.

The time extension will allow us to build that confidence.

By the end of 2001 I want to be sure that every teacher of a qualifications class will have participated in at least four full days of teacher professional development - working with their peers from other schools to ensure that their expectations of student achievement are consistent; and they have common skills and understandings of what and how to assess and report.

The Government has decided to grant two teacher-only days this year, and request schools to build in two call back days next year to achieve this.

Staffing review

Finally, I'd like to talk about a policy which I am particularly keen on and which I see as being crucial to the long term enhancement of the schools sector - that is the staffing review.

We are in the process of developing the terms of reference for that review. It will take into account factors such as rurality and size of a school, changes to the curriculum, the workloads of teachers and principals, the particular needs of Maori and Pacific Island students.

The assumption that a school with 200 pupils has only 20% of the administrative workload if a school with 1000 pupils is just wrong.

I will be chairing the staffing review myself. We will develop priorities to be implemented over several years.

But I am delighted that this morning, Howard Fancy announced that he has secured the services of Hutt Valley High School Principal Graeme Marshall to play a major part in this process. Graeme will be the project manager and will plan and manage the work programme for the review, and chair it when I am unavailable.

As MP for Hutt South, I am very sorry to lose the services of such a high calibre local principal and I expect some of my constituents will not be too pleased with me.

As Minister of Education, I am delighted that I will be working with Graeme on a project which I believe will significantly benefit schooling in New Zealand.

ENDS

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