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Bill English - Speech to School Principals

28 June 2002
Address to School Principals
Parliament Buildings
"Reaching for the Stars"
National's Education Policy
Hon Bill English

I'Il speak today first as a parent - Mary and I will have our 6 children in school for at least the next 15 years - as we have for the last 10 years.

I have learned at least one thing in that time - what matters in education is an inspired teacher and an enthusiastic pupil - that's what makes learning work, and everything else is there to support them.

If you have been watching politics lately you'd think the politicians didn't care about education. I do.

I am here for the children, the young New Zealanders who each have a dream of their own which you and I can help them realise. I am here to make sure public education adapts with the times and needs of the students and I will do whatever it takes to achieve it. Schools are not a crutch for ideology - children and parents are not there to support the system.

Our schools are like our young people - they need every chance to realise their potential and National's education policy is about the best chance to foster the potential.

There is much that works well in our schools and today I pay respect to the work done by thousands of Boards of Trustees members, teachers and all those parents who set expectations for their children, and put in the time in their busy lives to help their children.

As our community grows more diverse, as technology extends its reach, and as we gain in understanding about the special and individual needs of every child, it strikes me as bizarre that the current direction of education policy is towards more uniformity and central control.

Labour's priority was to meet its political commitments by imposing the best ideological thinking of the 1970's back on our schools. As decision-making moves back to the Ministry, schools have less power and less flexibility.

In theory, secondary teachers have everything they want, because Labour gave them everything they asked for. But by their own description, they are underpaid, overworked, undervalued and burned out. I might add I have never seen moderate, reasonable teachers so bitter and determined as they are now.

What kind of country is it that can't put teachers in front of its own children? If Helen Clark is so competent, why can't she solve this problem? Labour is trying to play tough to a business audience because they believe teachers will vote for them anyway. Our kids are caught in the middle.

Parents want professionals in the classroom - people they can trust to do the job. We do not want dissatisfied, tired teachers burdened with endless bureaucratic processes dogging every step in learning. A school is not a factory.

The future for our children does not lie in a one-size-fits-all school system with teachers treated and paid like factory workers.

Even if the current dispute were settled tomorrow, it would not tackle the fundamental problems. An aging, secondary teaching population, parents shifting to private schools, workload stress that saps the goodwill to go the extra mile and loss of choice.

I acknowledge the many primary principals here this morning too. Your staff are now, by virtue of parity, party to the secondary teachers dispute. I am sure you will agree that there is a better way.

We can do better for our kids, whether it is to lift the energy of a healthy primary sector, or fix the chronic illness in the secondary sector.

Another reason we need more change is because we can no longer afford to leave any child behind - I am a strong supporter of alternative education because it recognises reality - that some young people just don't fit mainstream education. Too many still don't and their needs are not being met.

I all know there is no more important investment we can make for New Zealand's future than education.

So what should we do?

First, I would settle the secondary strike to restore certainty for parents and students and finish the year without further disruption. I cannot allow 57,000 fifth formers finish this year without a qualification. I have proposed an offer of the order of our settlement in 1999 and a $2000 allowance for the implementation of the NCEA this year, conditional on teachers ceasing all industrial action. National will halt Labour's plans to give kindergarten teachers parity with secondary teachers from 1 July. Kindergarten teachers deserve consideration of their case for better pay on its own merit. Labour's step would make the secondary education crisis impossible to resolve. And finally, I will not bring in NCEA at Level 2 or Year 12 next year. The bigger challenge is to allow the school to flourish as a modern knowledge organisation ready and able to adapt to changes in technology, teaching methods and the needs of its students.

I start by asking what's the best environment for learning a child can have?

I say it's a school that enables inspired teachers to teach in a classroom where there are enthusiastic children.

And parents need to know whether their child is learning or not - if they are, that their progress is rewarded and if not, there is swift and active intervention. This is the process of any good classroom teacher.

If we can achieve that, children will learn. More than anything else, parents want to send their children to a school confident that their children will learn.

So, we will start by putting principals, parents and teachers in charge of their schools; not politicians and bureaucrats.

All secondary schools will be moved to self-management from 1 January 2003 with an option to designate an approved agency to manage your budget.

Self-management for primary, intermediate and middle-schools would be phased in from January 2004 for those who opt for self-management. This recognises there may be problems associated with smaller size schools in many cases.

I think many primary schools will be excited by the opportunities offered and will choose self-management.

Schools will be funded on a single funding formula combining all the property, operations and staffing. The formula would take into account roll numbers each year, educational needs, rural isolation and the status of the property.

But I can assure you there will be no loss of funding.

Schools would have the choice to opt out of national contracts and the national payroll system, and develop their own site agreements.

In this way, they will be able to better develop their own culture and profile. This goes hand in hand with our policy of giving parents the choice of school their child attends by repealing Labour's rigid zoning laws.

We want diversity in our schools. So, we will over time raise the funding for independent schools to 50% of the equivalent entitlement for State schools.

A new flexible approach to school governance will see the option of becoming a Trust School. And we will make it possible for successful schools to manage struggling schools, so more schools can benefit from what works well.

There will be zero tolerance of failing schools. A School's Rescue Service will be established to intervene quickly in schools identified by the Education Review Office as failing to deliver quality education to pupils.

But we will also encourage our best principals to take up the challenge of turning around our most disadvantaged schools by paying them a premium to succeed.

These changes are in line with the international direction of progress in public education. These changes will give schools much greater ability to pay good teachers more and restore to them the professionalism and recognition they deserve.

Teacher workloads will be addressed. We will enhance the social workers programme in schools and put more support into alternative schools for kids that don't fit the system, but need a good education.

This will be welcomed by both primary and secondary schools.

Raising standards will be a top priority. For incoming teachers there will be fewer, better-quality trainees, minimum academic standards for entry and regular ERO audits of all teaching training institutions.

For children, we will develop world-class assessment that rewards success and tackles failure quickly.

We'll get the basics right in the early years, so every 9 year-old is able to read, write and do maths. That will be our aim.

And at the other end of the spectrum, we will raise the value of A Bursaries from $200 to $2000 and B Bursaries from $100 to $1000.

It makes no sense to have Bursaries at today's low levels when it costs $185 to sit the exam.

12,000 students will benefit from increasing the bursary levels which can be put toward off-setting the cost of their tertiary education fees.

The time has come to set our schools on a course to take the next generation of New Zealanders forward. You have the opportunity to be advocates of change for the better.

That's my challenge to you. As we debate this policy, let's always keep in mind the young New Zealanders who have brought us together today. For those of us who work with them everyday there is the effort of making rules, drawing lines and lifting spirits. But there is also the reward of awakening dreams, fears overcome and new found confidence. Let our schools reflect the learning, the energy, the potential of our children.

Together we can get on the front foot and make things better.


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