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Rural And Teaching Principals' Conference - Nelson

Hon Trevor Mallard Speech Notes

I'd like to start off by saying thank you for the job you do.

Teaching principals do have one of the toughest jobs in our sector. In many ways, you are the jack of all trades in the education area.

That's why when I spoke to your conference a year ago in New Plymouth and stated my commitment to extra support for small rural schools. That speech was a week after the school staffing review was established and I gave you my assurance that an early focus of the group would be on small, rural schools.

I hope that many of you are already benefiting from that. The staffing review team worked hard to give me an early recommendation that was built into last year's Budget and implemented in schools this year. It resulted in 160 Full Time Teacher Equivalents across approximately 460 rural and small primary, area, and secondary schools.

While the increases are relatively modest, from 0.2 to 0.8 FTTEs, the effects are potentially substantial. An increase of 0.2 FTTEs could allow the teaching principal in a rural school the opportunity to have an extra one day’s release each week from classroom contact time to carry out management duties and provide for curriculum and professional development. In an area or secondary school, the staffing could allow for additional subjects to be taught at senior secondary level, or more time for management duties or curriculum and professional development.

The Review Group’s report was released in March this year and I am sure that many of you have taken the opportunity to have a glance at it. It has received a lot of support from the sector. The support has come with the obvious reservation 'that's really good, but when's it going to happen?'

The answer to that question is in a matrix. For instance, what improvements can be made next year depend largely on the results of the current contract negotiations. There is only so much money that I can get for school staffing and it has to be shared between improvements to numbers and increases in pay rates.

I also want to remind the sector that the Staffing Review Group report was designed to be delivered in stages across the whole sector over a number of years. The Government will be guided by the Group’s recommendations but the shape and timing of staffing improvements will have to be considered year by year, and as fiscal and other constraints allow.

Some of you will know that I am also Associate Finance Minister. A major part of that role for me is helping Michael Cullen work through Budget bids with other Ministers. I'm often made to feel like a mean Dad who won't give his kids enough pocket money. But this Government has a long-term programme for economic and social transformation. We want a stronger economy and a stronger society. We cannot achieve our goals within one Parliamentary term.

As such, we have to maintain economic credibility. Part of that is sticking to some fairly tight fiscal constraints. So next week's Budget is not going to be a wild spending spree. Ministers, including myself in education, have had to look carefully at where our priorities are and how we can invest a relatively small increase in the spending cap so that we get good social and economic returns. We also have to balance that with working with other parties within the Parliament. For example, I have worked with the Greens spokesperson on education to develop two initiatives that are close to their heart. As a result, the Budget includes $150,000 for school gardens and $500,000 over two years for environmental education.

Rural schools will get some specific further support in that Budget. For a start, there will be ongoing funding for small schools administration support.

The Ministry of Education has completed an evaluation of how the school administration support cluster projects helped reduce workloads. Eighty-six percent of principals said that their involvement in a cluster reduced their workload and 77 percent said it also reduced their board members' workload. That in itself indicates a success. What is particularly pleasing is that the willingness of members to share information, resources and personnel was critical to the success of the projects. It is that kind of co-operation that will also help teaching and learning in our schools.

This year's Budget will allow $1 million to run some more cluster projects. About half the country's small rural schools have already been involved and the extra money will allow more than 100 new schools to participate. What I am even more pleased about, is that I have managed to secure ongoing funding in the out years. There is a commitment of $2.7 million a year to help in administration for small rural schools. The Ministry will be using the evaluation reports of the cluster projects to help develop recommendation as to how that ongoing funding can be best used.

Other ongoing work that may be of interest to you includes issues relating to leadership and management development for principals.

High quality principalship is a huge contributor to high quality education outcomes. Some of you may be new, first time principals. I ask others of you to think back to the time when you were a new principal.

I have heard many stories from principals about the struggle of the first few months and even the first couple of years. That is hardly surprising. It is a big change, especially if you have no previous management experience. It is also not something that is taught in colleges of education.

School Support Services currently do some work in the area, but there is more we can do to support principals through the transition. It is a vital point in a principal’s career and I think it is the best time to establish a solid grounding in educational leadership.

Some of you may have been asked to participate in a research project commissioned by the Ministry on the skills, knowledge and attributes needed by first-time principals to be effective in their positions. This work will provide a solid foundation for our approach to principals' preparation and development – at all stages in your careers.

There are a lot of professional development options out there for principals and aspiring principals to choose from. Government will be doing more to help principals make informed choices about the professional development that will help them and their schools the most. Principals don’t have the time to waste on development that does not match their needs.

Education Council

Something else you might be aware of is the Education Council. The most important aspect of the Council is the extended responsibilities (over and above registration and discipline) and the fact that it will be more representative of teachers and principals.

The Council has the potential to take a strong role in professional leadership, raise the status of the teaching profession, and act as a forum for professional debate.

Schools Sector Monitoring

You might also be aware of the schools monitoring project. It is aimed at building an integrated, sector wide web based system to provide a common platform of information on student and school performance as well as provision for individual schools. A key component of the monitoring project is a web-site that will provide schools with information on school performance and provision in the form of performance indicators and comparative information that schools can use for self-review and improvement. This information is also expected to assist rural teaching principals with aggregate information for decision making and planning.

Special Education

In the area of special education you will be aware that we recently decided to disestablish SES and transfer special education delivery to a new directorate within the Ministry of Education. We believe this will provide improved co-ordination both within the education system and with other social services. I know many rural schools have found the fragmentation within special education quite frustrating. The new system will be more responsive to local needs. Placing responsibility for the delivery of special education within the Ministry creates a direct line of accountability to Government

Isolation Index

The Ministry is working towards finding better measures and determinants of isolation for schools. The Isolation Index aims to more accurately reflect schools’ relative isolation. It will calculate a rating according to distance from population centres of 5,000 20,000 and 100,000. Access to population centres of these sizes means schools can obtain the goods and services they require to deliver the curriculum. The original version of the Isolation Index, released for public comment in October 1999, has since been refined to reflect sector feedback. Consultation on this is being undertaken, particularly in relation to potential impacts on current levels of Targeted Rural Funding.

Information and Communication Technology

Bandwidth is an issue for rural schools. During the last round of the Principals First workshops a common theme was poor access to the Internet for rural schools. At present there are several initiatives which are trialing different types of bandwidth solutions for schools. In particular, the four Digital Opportunities Projects feature three different technologies, cable, microwave links and upgraded telephone exchanges. Some of these projects are in rural areas so the knowledge gained will help guide future policy development. Government is working closely with business partners to make this happen.

Te Kete Ipurangi, the online resource centre, and the Internet offer much to all rural schools and hence the increasing emphasis on bandwidth to enable affordable fast access for all schools. TKI is enlarging its curriculum content and information all the time.

Years 7 and 8

Finally, I'd like to mention a report that was released yesterday that might be of interest to you.

Some of you might know that I am currently going through a consultation and decision making process about the future shape of schooling in my local area.

Over recent years the numbers of young people in Wainuiomata have been declining. So schools and the community in Wainuiomata have taken the opportunity to think about what schools could really offer, without being constrained by the existing number and type of schools.

It is a process that happens from time to time in pockets around the country and from my experience, one of the greyest areas in such changes is the best option for Year 7 and 8 students.

In some areas there is considerable competition for Years 7 and 8 students – from full primary schools, intermediate schools, composite schools or Years 7 to 13 secondary schools. Yet, we had very little independent information looking at this issue. So last year I asked ERO to produce for me a report on the educational advantages and disadvantages of the various kinds of schooling that exist for students in years 7 and 8.

ERO has sent that report to your schools today. It considers the range of state schooling options for Years 7 and 8 students and factors that are likely to influence and promote the quality of that schooling. It doesn't make hard and fast recommendations. Nor should it, as different communities will have different needs. But it does provide a useful overview of matters that should be considered during EDI processes.

There are copies of the report for you to take with you if you wish.

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