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New Zealand Principals Federation Moot

Hon Trevor Mallard Speech Notes

Thank you for the invitation to be here today.

A year ago, immediately after I spoke to this forum, I got in a car and drove to Taupo to take part in the Hui Taumata hosted by Tuwharetoa.

I want to begin today by talking about the progress made in this area. Remember that the hui came at a time when the Government had been under intense pressure from an opposition party backlash against our ‘closing the gaps’ work. But we made a conscious decision that we would ignore that pressure and carry on with a work programme that I consider will be some of the most significant in my time as Education Minister.

Following the February hui we spent a lot of time taking the recommendations around the country and discussing them at a regional level. We met nationally again in November and a work plan is being developed.

I personally feel very optimistic about the progress that is being made and I also sense optimism among the people that we are meeting with.

We all know that there is no easy solution. There is, however, a matrix of ideas that will lead to improvement. I bet that every single person in this room knows an education initiative that has excited them. One that they see as having real potential. The hui taumata process is helping us define our priorities, share ideas about what works, identify the gaps, and work towards making a difference.

And sitting behind everything we do is the absolute belief that Maori children can succeed in education.

I want to talk to you about the results of the Early Childhood Primary Link research released late last year. The Picking up the Pace report, is the most exciting that I have read since I became Minister of Education. It has given me hope. If you haven’t heard of it, please take the time to read about it.

Through a careful mix of initiatives, reading and writing results for six-year-olds in Otara and Mangere schools improved so dramatically they are now close to the national average.

The work shows that with appropriate support within a classroom setting, children from poorer backgrounds can learn to read and write well. It shows that the key to improvement is lifting teachers’ expectations. It shows that the many excuses for poor performance are not valid and in fact there are no excuses for failure.

It also backs up my long-held belief in the importance of quality early childhood education. And government is focusing on early childhood education this year – including our response to the strategic plan. This may not impact on you directly, but I have little doubt that the positive impact will filter into your schools for years to come.

Already we have made a start on our aim to have more children from all communities taking part in quality early childhood education. In particular, next week we’ll be announcing details about the implementation of equity funding for the early childhood sector. In last year’s budget, we set aside nearly $30 million over four years for this purpose.

I await with interest the response from the National opposition to our plan. I don’t know what they think about equity funding for early childhood education, but I found their comments on decile funding in schools quite disturbing. And while I don’t want to be too political in this forum, I will make a few comments.

I am sure that everyone in this room supports the principle of equity funding. We believe that with the right support, we can make a difference for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The fundamental role of equity funding is to provide that support. Remember that equity funding is only about four per cent of all school funding. It makes up about 16% of operational funding. Also bear in mind that all schools have received an increase in funding since 1999. For example, the basic per pupil funding of the operation grant has increased, by 15-20% - and that makes up more than half of all operational funding.

Mr English wants to make the 90% of schools that receive equity funding more accountable. Or perhaps he only wants to make some of those 90% of schools more accountable. In which case, where is he going to draw the line? Which boards and principals will he not trust?

Tomorrow’s Schools has had a mixed result. Giving greater autonomy to parents is a wonderful concept that has really enhanced New Zealand schools. But handing over that responsibility means that sometimes schools will do things, within the regulations, that I don’t necessarily like and that other politicians don’t like.

The relativities of decile funding may change from year to year. But I am not considering a fundamental change to the system. Nor am I prepared to place a cloud over all the wonderful work in many of our low decile schools because of one example that National is critical of.

I would also point out, that increased accountability for schools is already something this Government has introduced as part of the Education Standards Act.

One of the major aspects of the Act is the change in what and how schools are required to plan.

You will have all received some information about this through various forms and more detailed information is on its way in the next couple of weeks.

I think it would be fair to say that so far your sector has given this proposal a 'wait and see' response. What is pleasing though is the number of schools – more than 120 - prepared to take part in the trial this year to test the system. About the same number again requested copies of the CD Rom and many more have downloaded material from the internet.

Early feedback shows that principals think strategic planning is important. They’re pleased to see that we’re focusing on planning for student achievement - rather than the mere production of paper plans. Most principals are more than happy to be accountable for providing students with a good education. It is, afterall, your bread and butter. That understanding is critical to this process.

Officials congratulated one principal on his strategic planning. They thought it was outstanding. Yet the principal hadn't consciously thought about it as strategic planning. He said: "As long as you look hard at where you need to improve, it's just common sense." That to me, sums up what being strategic in education means. What does the data tell us? Where do we need to do better? What are we going to do about it?

I know it’s not easy. Principals are telling us that analysis and finding the right strategy is something they find quite difficult. That’s why we need your input into making sure the tools and support we provide are really helpful. They need to help schools identify their priorities for improvement. They need to provide useful information to schools and teachers to help with planning and development. They need to help the school provide useful information to parents about their child's progress.

They need to help schools provide good indicators in order to help government make sound policies and determine priorities. They need to save us all time.

It is a big wish list. But the planning and reporting tools are on their way.
I'd like to thank the schools that are helping in the trialing of these. We want these to be easy to use and your feedback is essential to that.

We've got the advisory service gearing up to provide help with analysis and planning. And the Ministry is shortly to appoint people in its local offices whose job will be to work with schools in their planning, target setting and reporting.

Another new thing this year that I’m pretty excited about is the Principal Leadership and Management Development initiative.

You’ll remember we announced this in last year’s Budget with a commitment of more than $27 million over four years. $19 million of this was new funding.

The step up to being a principal is an enormous professional challenge – particularly at the primary level. Many principals have described to me the struggle of the first few years. I am sure many of you look back on your first years as a principal and think: “If I knew what I know now, it would have been a lot easier.” I believe that if principals are better prepared, we will have better schools and better learning.

The support for first time principals will not provide all the answers but I am confident that we can ease the strain considerably. I think it is something that should have been done years ago.

The next few months include a number of milestones for this initiative. At the beginning of next month, the first residential courses for newly appointed first time principals will take place. They’ll be followed by courses in July and September. This term facilitators will be visiting first-time principals in their schools.

Next week we start the distribution of the laptop computers. Those laptops will, of course, be covered by the Microsoft deal that we have negotiated to provide all schools with free up to date software!

Over the next five months 1200 laptops will be distributed, a further 800 next year, and the remainder the year after so that all principals are covered. We are prioritising based on newer principals first followed by principals in remote and rural areas and principals in kura kaupapa.

We intend to replace these laptops every three years. I think this has the potential to improve both school administration, particularly in small schools, as well as teaching and learning. And ever mindful of the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” I urge you to use them.

We are hoping that you will want to drink – especially using the “LeadSpace” portal. That is currently in the final stages of its initial development.

Through LeadSpace you will have easy access to information, support and facilitated guidance. Trials have started and the portal will go live in April. I’ve had a bit of a peek at what’s proposed and it does look good.

Work has also begun to appoint and then train facilitators to moderate online discussions. This aspect of the plan will be of particular help to principals in small and rural schools, who are more likely to experience professional isolation. But all principals will have access to more of their colleagues’ ideas - more discussion on issue resolution, education and educational leadership.

Communicating online will allow principals to share and gain support for learning through working with other people. It will give principals the freedom to do this at a time, a place, and a pace that suits. The discussion part of the network is a ‘principals-only’ environment. It will be confidential to registered members, appointed facilitators, and guests who may from time to time be invited into the network by facilitators to discuss specific issues with members. We want to ensure the forum is frank, honest and reflective. I think that will help make it more successful.

I will know if this works when, later on in the year, and in coming years, I travel around the country and hear people talking about things that they have learnt from this site.

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