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Speech to the NZEI Conference - Mallard Speech

hon Trevor Mallard
Wednesday 26 September 2001 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:11.45am

Speech to the NZEI Conference, Duxton Hotel, Wellington

Thank you for the invitation to be here today.

In an electoral sense, this is like my mid-year report to you. The Government is just over half way through its first term and this is an opportunity for me to go over the commitments we made to the education sector, and how we have progressed those commitments.

Last year we moved quickly to honour some of our big ticket items and implement some of our major promises.

Of particular relevance to you was the removal of bulk funding. The $45 million freed up from that policy initiative was part of the extra $60 million that went into school operational funding this year. That's a 14.2% increase. Your schools have put that to good use in areas like numeracy and literacy initiatives and extra staffing.

I know your organisation also welcomed the passing of the Employment Relations Act. Not only because it introduced fairer industrial relations law, but because it brought kindergarten teachers back under the umbrella of the state sector. Pay parity is the next step in this area. The Pay Parity Working Group met for the first time last week to look at implementing our promise to negotiate benchmarks and a process for phasing in pay parity during our first term.

That pay parity commitment was also reflected in your collective employment agreement settled last year.

Also settled last year was the very important agreement for support staff where we delivered on our promise to recognise the value of support staff and the contribution they make to the school.

I was also pleased recently to launch a Teacher Aide Certificate being run by the Open Polytechnic. It is a recognised qualification for salary purposes but it will also give teacher aides the opportunity to consolidate what they already know and to extend their knowledge base.

For the Government, this year has been about consolidation.

It is about setting the scene for a positive future in education.

It is about looking forward to provide real solutions to the challenges that our education system faces. The Education Amendment Bill No 2 is the vehicle for some of those plans. Outside of the legislative process there is some very intense ongoing work in areas like, Maori and Pacific education, ICT, supporting schools and students at risk, and early childhood education.

In early childhood education we are aiming to lift participation in quality programmes, raise expectations of achievement, and improve quality.

From next January, around $8 million annually will therefore support Equity Funding for ECE services. Considerable progress has been made on the strategic plan for early childhood education. The diversity of the sector has made this a challenging process. But it is worth the effort. For the first time in well over a decade, we, as a country, are looking at early childhood education from an overall perspective. That can only be positive for the future. In particular, I am looking for something quite tangible to come out of the process – something that we can set real and achievable goals around. By 'we' – I mean both government and the sector.

In the schools area we are investing in a positive future for the sector through our work on principal professional development. From the beginning of next year there will be training for first-time principals, including the provision of laptops and support for professional networking and mentoring.

About 180 first time principals are appointed to New Zealand schools each year. This opportunity will help them be effective as soon as they take up their new responsibilities. The Budget set aside $27.4 million over four years, including $19 million of new funding, for the initiatives.

Elsewhere we are pumping more dollars into the sector - and more teachers.

The primary teachers’ collective agreement is the biggest to be negotiated in New Zealand. The result was a reasonable pay increase for teachers and principals.

Other less publicised benefits include a retirement savings scheme, paid study leave and unpaid sabbatical leave.

Following the school staffing review, there will be an extra [insert number] 380 Full Time Teacher Equivalent positions in primary schools next year.

These are on top of the extra numbers needed to keep pace with roll growth and adds to the 160 extra FTTEs in small and rural schools this year.

The legislation setting up the new Teachers Council is not far away.

In my view, the council will prove its worth by the extent to which it engages with teachers at the chalk face and stimulates debate on professional issues.

Over the past year or so we have heard a lot about the tighter disciplinary and investigative powers of the council.

I make no apology for this.

But we will have failed if this is the only visible impact of the council.

A focus on teaching practice and improving educational outcomes for all students should be the core part of its work. As it should be for all of us involved in education.

The other major part of the Education Bill is the changes made to school planning and reporting. I have a lot of faith that this will provide schools, the Government, and parents with better information. I also believe that it will help to reduce workloads through more efficient administration systems.

I have a picture in my head from a sole charge school visit a couple of years ago when the principal showed me a stack of paper more than a foot high of requirements from government agencies.

What we are trying to do is set in place a system that cuts out double handling of information – a system that simplifies the flow of data between schools and the Government.

At the same time, we will help improve standards.

From 2003, school charters will need to set out the school’s strategic plan for the next 3 to 5 years, and the current year’s targets and activities that will help it reach its goals.

The focus must always be on student achievement and I want to see this tied in to continuous self-review.

The software deaI for state and integrated schools that I announced last week is another example how the Government can work centrally to make life easier in schools.

In this case – the latest version of some top software is made available to schools. The Government picks up the tab for licences. The deal comes from new money and frees up current operational funding.

A key part of the deal is that it will be extended to teachers on their home computers.

Te Kete Ipurangi - the Ministry’s bilingual education portal is another ICT area that we are committed to. We're putting about $2.3 million a year to ensuring that this site remains a World leader with new quality resources going up all the time.

If you can’t get access, I’m doing my best to get it to you.

If you can, but don’t, then think again.

TKI is quickly becoming a treasure house for all sorts of information and contacts for the improvement of teaching and learning.

ICT does help with effective teaching and learning.

The various ICT Clusters up and down the country are providing essential knowledge, experience and examples of what works in producing excellence.

We all know the pot of money is not big. As that great New Zealander Ernest Rutherford once said, “We haven’t much money so we’ll have to use thinking.”

Partnerships are the key to making the ICT Strategy work. New Zealand teachers are rolling up their sleeves to ensure this happens. That is why we are keeping at the front of the game. I thank you for that.

There are so many ways that the education sector is providing our children with a bright future. A future that is rich with opportunities for excellence.

So much brilliant work is underway. I'm particularly excited at some of the work in the areas of literacy and numeracy.

Many schools working to improve literacy are posting good results. You will see some really encouraging research results soon.

In the area of numeracy, evaluations of the pilots for Count Me In Too are exciting and the programme is being extended out. Over each of the next four years $9 million will see about 4000 more teachers a year getting involved.

And I challenge anyone who says schools are 'dumbing down' what they teach to take a look at the new Figure it Out series of books which I launched earlier this month. They're challenging, fun, and relevant to things children are interested in. It was a joy for me to see first hand the children at Jean Batten School in Mangere really enjoying the books and so obviously learning from them.

Supporting all this work will be the new assessment tools which I launched a couple of months ago. I even got gold stars on the tests that I completed.

The assessment tools will be available for literacy for the start of next year and for numeracy for the start of 2003.

It is not compulsory for schools to use these tools. But they are excellent and I believe the majority of schools will pick them up.

We need effective assessment practice and teachers knowing that they can make a difference.

Making a difference is what it is all about.

Making a difference for all students.

One of my big priorities while I am in this job is to work to make a difference for Maori and Pacific students in the education system.

In response to the very real need for change in the way the system caters for Maori students, we took part in the hui taumata hosted by Tuwharetoa earlier this year. There were more than 100 recommendations and we will be responding formally to those recommendations before the end of the year.

In the meantime Maori education initiatives are progressing – like the increasing number of iwi partnerships; the production of more high quality resource materials in te reo Maori and the KAWM videoconferencing project. The latter has proved to be an outstanding success, recently winning two national awards for innovation. One of the aspects of the February hui that was really heartening for me was the focus the participants placed on early childhood education as a tool for realising Maori education aspirations. That is also being reflected in the ECE strategic plan.

Progress has also been made with the release earlier this year of the Pacific education plan which establishes targets for Pacific education – especially in early childhood education where there is a desperate need to increase participation among Pacific families.

This Government is committed to the philosophy mooted by my forebear Peter Fraser – to provide opportunity to education for all New Zealanders regardless of their background. Many of us in this room today benefited from that philosophy either directly or indirectly through our parents or grandparents.

I want to make sure that today's generation of children continue to benefit. That is why I remain passionately committed to policies like equity funding, school support and professional development for all teachers. Equity funding in particular is an issue that can cause animosity among the sector. There seems to be a feeling among the higher decile schools that they are treated unfairly. I am not opposed to looking at tweaks to the system. For instance, there may well be justification over the next few years for adjusting the decile rated funding curve as we increase operational funding.

But any changes I make will have behind them the firm belief that the state education system does have a responsibility to balance out some of the differences in opportunity children are born into.

I believe this is an essential element of an education system that we can be proud of.

My vision is for all schools and early childhood centres, in the future being able to support and extend the talents of all their children - whether those students are exceptionally gifted and able or whether they find learning difficult.

To do that, they must each consider themselves a centre of excellence, and be willing to share their expertise and ideas. There should be no islands within our education system and we should not be afraid to say when things are not working. How can we fix the problems if we don't acknowledge them?

At the same time we must rejoice in our successes and think outside the parameters. Let's create learning environments that inspire both the students and staff within them.

ENDS

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