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Speech to the PPTA Conference - Mallard

Hon Trevor Mallard
Wednesday 26 September 2001 Speech Notes

Speech to the PPTA Conference, Quality Hotel, Wellington

Just over a week ago, I spoke at a conference in Auckland where I had the pleasure of announcing that the Government had struck a deal with Microsoft to provide software to all schools.

The deal is a very competitive one that includes software for teachers to use on their home computers.

Basically, we provide the software and pay the licences for everyone. It is a deal that schools could not possibly negotiate for themselves. We have used our bulk buying power to your advantage. We're not only saving schools cash, we're relieving them of the administrative nightmare that I know software licensing requirements can create.

The response from schools has been overwhelmingly positive. My office e-mail inbox has never been so full of praise for one single initiative.

Other highlights of the year have included the many building openings at schools around the country. Our schools are doing some amazing things with their property money. I am constantly astounded by the innovation that has been shown in designs and the obvious thought that has gone into creating something that suits each school community.

These highlights illustrate what is unique about the New Zealand education system. Our schools can flourish with their individuality and create environments that allow their students to strive for excellence. Some of the subjects that schools are choosing to offer and some of the ways in which they deliver those subjects also show that individuality.

At the same time, our population makes it easy and sensible to provide quality support to schools from a central base. The provision of resource material like that provided through Te Kete Ipurangi, the software deal, and some of the work we are doing with principal support and professional development are examples of that.

So one of my challenges as Education Minister is to find the balance between a system that allows schools to flourish under devolution and one that also offers good central support and allows input from Government when necessary and appropriate.

Changes we have made in the 21 months that I have been Minister of Education seek to get that balance.

We kept our election promise and removed bulk funding. That freed up $100 million that went into school operational funding this year.

And we will stump up with more cash next year to compensate for expected price rises - a further $18.8 million. That's an increase on all operational funding including the bulk funding money.

On top of that, more staff are going into schools.

The School Staffing Improvement Plan outlines improvements in 10 steps.

The overall impact of the plan is an extra 3,710 full-time equivalents, carrying an annual price-tag of around $235 million.

As part of step one, 160 full-time equivalents are in small and rural schools this year.

Next year, you’ll see at least another 380 positions above and beyond the extra teachers needed to keep pace with roll growth.

I realise you would have liked more new positions than this, but I have to be mindful of the realities of filling new positions and of my fiscal constraints.

We are keeping a close eye on teacher supply and demand.

As Labour Education Spokesperson I would like to be back here next year with a clear, believable timetable for the implementation of the report – again informed by teacher supply and pupil numbers.

The good news is that our new teachers come from a much wider age range with more people choosing teaching as a second career. Although, I am pleased (sort of) that the average secondary school teacher is now younger than I am. For what seemed like an extraordinary number of years, I always seemed to be two years younger than the average secondary school teacher.

Growing numbers of secondary students and the impact of the implementation of the School Staffing Review will increase the pressure on teacher supply. For the past three years, the TeachNZ recruitment advertising campaign has focused on secondary teacher recruitment - and this will continue and be intensified.

It is vital that we attract young teachers to the profession who have the skills that our secondary schools of the future are going to need. We need individuals that will inspire and motivate students so that they can strive for excellence.

In August, I attended the Knowledge Wave Conference in Auckland.

The conference delivered a strong message that lifting educational achievement is vital if New Zealand is to become a prosperous, knowledge-based society.

Many of the keynote speakers paid tribute to teachers who had inspired them. To teachers who recognised and supported their special talents. And at this point I want to congratulate one of my teachers who has done well – Karen Sewell.

But secondary schooling was also an area of special concern for many participants at the conference.

A wide range of ideas and recommendations were offered on how we can best prepare secondary students so they can participate in the economic and social benefits of a globalised, networked world.

One major issue for secondary schools is that of continuing to focus teaching and learning towards the skills needed by knowledge workers.

These include creative and critical thinking skills, entrepreneurship, technology, sciences and ICT literacy.

All this talk leads to speculation as to what secondary schools might look like in 10 years time?

Let me throw my thoughts into the ring – my wish list if you like – for when I look back on my years as Minister of Education and wonder whether I made a difference.

The key for me will be the morale of teachers and whether they are more prepared to push teaching as an important and rewarding profession.

I think secondary schools of the future will need to work more collaboratively.

There is a need to reduce pressure on upper secondary schools to keep expanding senior curriculum. So there is scope for more shared facilities and centres of regional specialisation and excellence – including through greater use of ICT.

The advances in areas like video conferencing, which is being trialed in wharekura and Maori boarding schools with great success gives an insight into that. A few years ago, the technology was next to useless to use as an everyday tool. The delays and the quality of picture were just not good enough for effective teaching and learning. The advance in the technology in just a few short years has been spectacular and no doubt will continue. Used to its full potential, it could give all students in the country access to more specialist tuition. It will allow the specialist teachers to live and work in Northland or South Westland teach students around the country and be national subject leaders.

I think technology will allow both teachers and schools to focus on depth rather than forcing them into being 'Jills of all trades'. You might develop deep and narrow niches – niches that could well be international and probably very rewarding.

It will pose administrative challenges – but it will be possible and it will be worth it.

Secondary schools of the future will have to be less competitive but still focus on excellence. There will be more emphasis on innovation and improvements in pedagogy and school performance but it will be driven by schools.

Within each school I would like to see a real focus on developing different skill mixes and how they are used. I would like to see a more explicit focus within schools on curriculum leadership, focus on staff development and teaching excellence. I would like to see more working in cross curricula teams. One of the interesting points that came through from the Knowledge Wave was the links between art and science.

As well as working more closely with each other, I see real advantages in secondary schools developing alliances with enterprise, and with tertiary providers, to enhance learning resources and learning opportunities.

There is a need for more analysis at school wide level of learning effectiveness. This would lead to differentiated strategies informed by self review.

A much debated issue is the role of schools as points of intervention for wider social purposes.

Here there is a need for government and communities to be more explicit about that role. We want teachers teaching - not being social workers. At the same time, schools are in a position to address the social and health needs of students. Students with health and social problems are not in the best position to learn. It is an important area for us to discuss and work on.

I'll certainly be watching carefully the progress of projects like the AIMHI full service initiatives and some of the ongoing work in the areas of school support and suspension reduction.

I'd like to see our schools involving their communities more. It is especially important to look at ways in which Maori and Pacific communities can have a greater input into what happens in their schools. I think that if we are successful in this, it will provide a big boost to other initiatives aimed at improving Maori and Pacific education outcomes.

My wish list is long. But it is achievable.

And if it works (or should I be optimistic and say when it works?) I think it will make your jobs more rewarding and your profession more professional.

What I would like to see is a situation where secondary school teachers will recommend secondary teaching as a profession to their students.

ENDS

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