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Speech to the New Zealand Principals Federation

Hon. Trevor Mallard

Thursday 28 June 2001 Speech Notes

Speech to the New Zealand Principals Federation

Thank you for the invitation to be here today.

Thank you as well to the principals of all the schools I've visited in the last year.

I am constantly impressed by some of the activity and facilities that I see in schools as I travel the country.

In particular, I think the changes introduced to property management
last year are working well. Coupled with the injection of capital funds, we are seeing property being developed more to support the individual learning programmes in schools.

In recent months, I've been fortunate enough to be a guest at many openings of technology blocks, information and computer technology suites, libraries, school halls, and quite recently astro turf at a primary school. The latter also interested me in my Sport, Fitness and Leisure Minister role especially in relation to the review I released at the beginning of the year.

That school was keen to show me that they took the provision of physical activity seriously, despite the review implying that not enough physical activity went on in schools.

When that report was released, I was amazed at the amount of coverage it got on the news. There's a sad irony in the fact that the sports review is the single biggest media issue that I've been involved in that impacts on education.

It would be fair to say that the review painted a fairly gloomy picture of what was happening in schools. The Education Review Office has not backed up that view. Reviewers looked at physical activity in 100 primary schools. Their report shows that not only was physical activity a key focus for children during breaks, but there was a wide variety in organised physical activity. There is, however, still work to be done around programme quality and teacher education in the area.

As I said earlier, I've opened many ICT type facilities this year. I'm amazed by the range and type of work that school children as young as five are doing with the help of ICT. My personal impression is that there has been a big leap forward from children learning about computers to children learning by using computers. When we were young, we learnt about children in other countries by reading about them. These days, children will exchange e-mails with a child the other side of the world – sometimes on a daily basis.

The resources that children, and their teachers, have access to through the Internet are staggering. I'd like to put an advertisement in here for Te Kete Ipurangi. We've put a lot of money into TKI as an efficient way of supporting learning and development through provision of good resources. I think that more widespread use of it, has the potential to really help workloads by making lesson planning quite a bit easier.

Finally on the subject of ICT, I'd like to acknowledge all the endorsements that I have received from school principals for the ICT professional development clusters.

Late last year, we announced a doubling of the number of schools taking part in the clusters. Now there are more than 500 schools involved in ICT clusters with many enjoying both the support that they get from the lead schools as well as the benefits from just sharing ideas. I'm hoping that there will be about 20 more new clusters next year. Applications for the next round will be in the August Gazette.

I'd like to also mention another cluster approach that I've put some work into over the last year. That is administrative support for small rural schools.

It's a topic that I got a bit of a grilling on when I spoke to your conference last year. They are concerns that I took seriously. As a result, I managed to secure ongoing funding for small schools administration support in this year's budget.

The Ministry of Education has completed an evaluation of how the school administration support cluster projects helped reduce workloads. A large majority of principals said that their involvement in a cluster reduced their workload and their board members' workloads 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. As within the ICT clusters, it is that kind of co-operation that will also help teaching and learning in our schools.

This year's Budget allows $1 million to run some more cluster projects. More than a third of the country's small rural schools have already been involved and the extra money will allow more than 100 schools to participate in new cluster projects. More importantly, I have managed to secure ongoing funding in the out years. There is an ongoing 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 recommendations as to how that ongoing funding can be best used.

The budget initiative that I am most excited about is the $19 million for leadership and development for principals. This is another issue which we had some intense discussion at last year's conference. I think it would be fair to say that I received a 'could do better' on my report card in this subject. I hope that you'll give me a 'shows great improvement' this year.

Within the spending there will be a focus on first time new principals.

A principal is a major part of the equation for a successful school. Yet as a country we have paid scant regard to the need to offer training and support to new or aspiring principals. Many principals have described to me the struggle of the first few years on the job and the professional isolation they felt.

I hope this funding will make a real difference.

The package is practical and is being finalised with input from working principals. It includes induction courses, funding for professional development guidance, and an electronic principals network that will provide access to examples of good practice.

I think those two initiatives – school administration and principal development - illustrate the balance that we tried to achieve overall in this year's budget between addressing some immediate needs and making some careful investments in key areas for long term success.

I know many commentators labelled the budget as boring. But that's a label I can certainly live with. Last year we funded some of our big ticket items. Like restoring superannuation, income related rentals on state houses, and removing the interest on student loans for students who are still studying. We said after that budget that things would be tight this year and they have been.

We have some long-term goals in education to improve quality, access, and achievement for all New Zealanders regardless of their background or family circumstances. In order to make real progress, it is important that we have more than one term in government. To achieve that, we must demonstrate prudent management of the economy. So there was no announcement of a wild spending spree when Michael Cullen read the budget speech just over a month ago. But nonetheless, I think education did well out of it.

The last thing I would like to say about budget matters is a reminder about the redistribution of funding in last year's budget that resulted in most schools receiving an increase in their operational funding this year. Many schools initially thought that was a one-off payment. It is not. It has been built into your base funding.

That redistribution resulted in about $60 million extra going directly into schools this year compared to last year.

I know that schools are putting it to good use. In particular, I was pleased that more than half the schools that received extra funding are using some of it on numeracy and literacy initiatives. There is a lot of exciting work going on in those areas.

I'm sure some of that funding is being used to expand on some of the fantastic work that has been achieved using the Count me in Too programme. Seeing the evaluation results from the 83 pilot schools was one of those occasions where, as a Minister, you get really get excited about the potential of an initiative to make real progress.

I put out a news release announcing the results and the fact that we've extended this pilot into the Early Numeracy Project which involves the teachers of about 50,000 children.

It's a sad indictment on news values that reporters calling my office that day were more interested in my views on the inappropriate behaviour of a rugby league player in Australia than in changes in maths teaching that will eventually involve nearly all New Zealand school children.

That media disinterest doesn’t diminish the importance of pushing ahead on some of these core areas. We're putting $7.3 million this year into professional development numeracy programmes – mainly in primary schools. More than 3000 teachers are learning new skills to help their pupils' maths learning.

It really is a 'good news' story. In fact, the Evaluation of the Year 4-6 Exploratory Study (2000) arrived on my desk yesterday.

It shows that at the end of the project, the teachers were much more confident in mathematics teaching. They had developed their subject content knowledge, and changed their classroom practice. Children were enjoying mathematics lessons.

The project highlights that effective professional development requires a conceptual shift by teachers if classroom practices are to change. It also confirms that in-class modelling of teaching, based on the needs of the kids in the class, is a very important component of effective professional development.
I expect to release the full report next month.

The last issue that I want to cover is the Education Amendment Bill #2. That bill includes some changes to education that I think are incredibly significant and have the ability in the long term to make a major positive impact on the quality of learning in our schools.

I was somewhat bemused by the comments from your federation this week, that the bill was a 'big brother' approach. It is not a term that has been put to me directly at the series of meetings I've had on the topic this year with about a third of the country's principals.

There have been a lot of questions about the logistics of the changes. I have confidence that between us, we will work through those issues. But I have sensed a lot of support for the need to improve the quality of information the Government gets from schools, and the quality of information that schools can give their parents. That will help me when I make policy decisions. It is information that can be fed back to you in order to help you improve planning and analysis of your own performance. All good principals are constantly trying to improve their school.

Another important point that I want you to take away with you today is that I am determined that this will result in less work for you. We will do this by making better use of information technology and cutting out the double handling of information and simplifying the flow of data between schools and the Government.

Finally, I'd like to share with you a few words of wisdom about the challenges of being an education leader. These were sent to my office recently from one of your colleagues, whom I won’t name other than to say that I did open his school's astro turf a few weeks ago in Rotorua.

The quote is: 'Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue'.

I think like me, some of you probably have days when you're the statue, and wonder why you don't retire.

For me, the answer lies in the potential that education has to change the World.

The Government is currently involved in a project called the Knowledge Wave. We want to raise New Zealand’s sights to explore new ways to create future economic prosperity and social well-being.

One aim is to spark a broad-based national discussion on how New Zealand can benefit from the pursuit and application of knowledge-based creativity and innovation. We believe that is the key to success in the global economy of the 21st century.

Education is a key tool in that pursuit. I'm driven by my desire to ensure that all New Zealanders get the opportunity to ride that wave.

ENDS

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