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Trevor Mallard Speech To The PPTA

Hon Trevor Mallard

Speech To The Post Primary Teachers Association Annual Conference – Wellington


Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.

I've been to the PPTA conference several times over the years and I can honestly say it's a lot more satisfactory being able to address you wearing my current hat than the one I wore last year.

As Labour spokesperson on education, I always appreciated the frank discussions and consultation I was able to have with the PPTA leadership and I am pleased that it is continuing in Government. I am determined to keep in touch directly with key sector groups like the teacher unions, principal organisations, and parents and school management through the School Trustees Association

At this stage, I'd like to thank Graeme Macann for the dialogue we have been involved in. It's a dialogue that I hope we continue more informally at a local Hutt South level. I'd like to offer my personal congratulations to Jen McCutcheon and Hamish Duncan on your elections. I look forward to working constructively with you to advance education and learning.

I want to start off by talking about some wider Government issues. During the Budget round, I found myself in a rather unusual position. On one hand, I was a Minister with responsibility for one of the major social policy portfolios. On the other, I was the associate Minister of Finance trying to make other Ministers' budgets fit the fiscal limits we had set to encourage growth. I avoided saying no to myself by Michael Cullen taking that role during the education talks.

After years in Opposition, Ministers were brimming with ideas and plans to advance the causes within their portfolios. We are determined to change the direction National led New Zealand down during the nineties.

But we are also determined to be more than a one term Government. Showing that we are fiscally responsible is integral to that. The test for a centre left government is tougher than that for the right. No one would thank us if inflation and interest rates took off.

Within education, objectives for the sector are long-term. Our focus on closing the gaps between Maori and Pacific communities and other New Zealanders is something that will take a generation. We can not sacrifice those long-term aims for the sake of a one term spending spree.

I'm proud of the balance that we have achieved. We have come through with our big pledge items like restoring the rate of superannuation, scrapping the interest off loans while students are still studying, and reintroducing income related rents for state house tenants. And we are well on the road to implementing the social and economic policies aimed at making New Zealand a fairer place to live. A country where opportunity is not determined by the wealth of the community you were born into.

We have passed the Employment Relations Act – a cornerstone of Government policy to bring back balance in the conduct of employment relationships. Following that, within the education portfolio, we have gone through a process of looking carefully at the Act in relation to education contracts and there are a number of changes that I am proposing to make.

For example, to be consistent with the ERA I will be asking my colleagues to get agreement on the removal of the fixed term employment provisions from all principals' contracts and agreements.

Like previous Labour governments, education is a cornerstone of the Labour/Alliance Government's policy platform. It is a tool both for providing equality of opportunity for our children, and for providing New Zealand with the skilled workforce we need to encourage and sustain a vibrant economy. The country’s overall levels of knowledge and skill development will be at the core of our long-term social well-being and economic performance.

My personal pledge is that while I am the Minister of Education, within my fiscal constraints, I will constantly be looking for ways to make the system better. For ways to improve access to education. For ways to improve the quality of education. No matter how good our system is, it can always be better. I think the Olympic swimmers have shown that over the last week as records tumbled daily.

The Government sees teachers as a key partner in our quest to improve education. The quality of teaching is the most crucial factor in determining the quality of learning.

There are numerous ways to improve quality, but I want to focus on one issue that I am aware is probably your key concern - workloads.

I acknowledge workload has increased over recent years. There are a range of factors contributing to this:

 the quality and quantity of resources;
 the changing nature of society;
 the changing nature of secondary students;
 school organisation and administration;
 the level of support from, and requirements of external agencies; and
 changes in curriculum and assessment.

Not only does the increased workload bite into your family and personal life, but it hinders the amount of time and energy you have to spend on the core aspect of teaching.

So, as Minister of Education, I have a vested interest in doing something about teacher workloads.

I'm also concerned about the impact workload has on recruitment and retention issues which affect the supply of teachers.

I am currently considering recommendations put to me by the Ministry and PPTA from the joint forum on secondary teacher workload.

But there are a number of areas that address your concerns that are already in the pipeline. We're making changes in areas of resourcing. Taken together, these reviews constitute a significant change in the schools' resourcing.

For instance, there are:

 substantial increases to operational funding already announced;
 the review of operational funding;
 the review of special education; and
 the school staffing review.

I'd like to acknowledge the work of Roger Tobin, who is your representative on the staffing review group. They've been meeting since May and their first recommendation was built into this year's budget to relieve some of the staffing pressures in small rural schools. I'm expecting their full report by February next year.

The School Staffing Review Group will need to reconcile a range of competing demands to map out a pathway that will make the greatest contribution to student learning and teacher effectiveness. We will not be able to achieve everything we want instantly – rather we will need to work out a multi-year plan to move to our desired position.

The significant increase in funding which was announced as part of this year's Budget will also have a positive impact on teachers' workloads.

The abolition of bulk funding has increased operational funding for the majority of schools along with the ability to employ teachers above entitlement, bank staffing and make payments for recruitment, retention and responsibility. While some schools that had been receiving extra resourcing through bulk funding receive less money next year, it is overall a fairer and more equitable system. The $60 million extra in operational funding is an enormous amount. I need to stress that this is ongoing funding. It is not, as has been suggested to me, a one off payment.

Another measure that is intended to make an impact on teacher workload is the additional funding allocated in the year 2000 Budget to Te Kete Ipurangi. This is the online learning centre through which teachers will have better opportunities to share information about good practices. I want structures in place that allow teachers to share ideas and resources more, rather than reinventing the wheel. Te Kete Ipurangi provides this opportunity for all teachers. I hope that you've taken the opportunity to have a look at it.

Graeme was one of my guests at a preview of it a couple of months ago and I hope that he will agree with my assessment that it's a really exciting concept which I think can substantially reduce your preparation time.

While we're on the subject of ICT, I'd like to mention briefly some information I shared with the NZEI yesterday about school reporting changes.

I am currently working with the Ministry to look at ways of improving the ways schools report to government, to parents and the community. I want to ensure the focus is on reporting things that make a difference in the classroom – those aspects that help you as teachers improve the learning outcomes of your students.

The purpose of reporting should be to create a basis for school improvement. I have no interest in reporting for reportings sake – something that is shoved in the bottom draw until the auditor or ERO call.

These processes will help you as teachers apply the best possible learning tools in the classroom and it will help us as government make policy that responds to the real needs of schools and students.

Within this, is a focus on ICT. I want to make it clear here that I am adamant that ICT in education – whether it is for administration or education, should enhance systems and reduce workloads.

I want to move now to the NCEA that is a significant factor in workload concerns.

First of all, I want to state my personal support of NCEA. I have said publicly that it is not the system that I would have designed if I had been in the driving seat from the beginning. But it is far superior to a straight examination system and I want to put a lot of effort into making it a success. Unlike Nick Smith, who gave a distinct impression last night that were no external examinations in the NCEA, I know that it includes a mixture of internal assessment and external examination. I also disagree with Dr Smith's assertion that there is no place for internal assessment within the more traditional academic subjects. I think they can be really enhanced by this type of system. I'll use English as an example. A traditional examination might involve a student writing and analysing a speech. Surely, it is better to actually assess a student giving a speech that they have written? I certainly reject any notion that such a process does not challenge the most talented students.

The main focus of a secondary education system is to prepare young people for further education and the workforce.

There is no job that I can think of where the entire success of an employee would be based around one three- hour period at the end of the year. Tertiary education demands that students be well organised and produce work throughout the year – not just at examination time.

In other words – the NCEA is a more realistic approach to life.

Through the NCEA we are committed to raising standards of achievement for all students. We want to challenge the minds of the most gifted students and we want to help those groups of students who have been marginalised in our system. I’m not talking about moving the goalposts here. We will not close gaps by lowering standards. The system will now cater for all students. Those who are academically gifted and those that our patched up, stop-go system has failed.

And, we will examine any options to help make the implementation of the new qualification easier for teachers and schools. That is why I delayed the implementation of NCEA until 2002. I took advice from your executive that schools were not ready for it. I'm pleased to have followed the advice. At a forum recently, an extremely pro-NCEA principal who had previously been in the camp that said my delay decision 'sucked' admitted that even he was pleased for the extra time to implement the system properly. '

The first round of the professional development has been completed and overall there has been a positive response to that. It would be fair to say that the range of endorsement for those days has varied – between centres and subjects, and between those who have experience and primary training in assessment and those who work in schools more attuned to examinations designed for people on the other side of the world. However, I think one of the most positive aspects of it is the value that teachers have gained from getting together as professionals to work on these issues.

Within the next few weeks, your members will be deciding their support for the NCEA. I sincerely hope the vote will be in favour of it.

I believe that teachers recognise the shortfalls of the current system and with the exception of a small minority, are generally in favour of the concept of the NCEA. I hope that you share my faith in our ability to work together to address some of the concerns that surround its implementation.

I want to finish by responding to the closing statement that Roger Tobin made last night. I totally endorse the view given of the importance that the teacher plays in providing quality schooling.

And it really struck a cord with me when Roger talked about the low number of applications for secondary teaching positions.

I thought back to a few years ago, when you were going through particularly nasty pay negotiations and some very public spats with Dr Smith the 1st. I visited a senior secondary school and spoke to about 100 senior students. I asked them how many had considered teaching as a career. Two students put up their hands and 98 laughed. I think that the teacher bashing that went on during that period was very damaging and that the resulting low morale is still filtering through the system and affecting recruitment and retention. Earlier this year I was shocked to hear from a parent the story of a teacher who at a school-arranged career evening was actively putting young people off teaching as a career.

Teaching is a profession that I value. It is a job that has its low points and considerable stresses. But it is also a job where the good times can't be beaten. I hope to work constructively with you to come up with practical and realistic solutions to help your profession rediscover the joy of teaching.

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