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Hobbs Speech: REAP National Conference

Marian Hobbs Speech: REAP National Conference, Brentwood Hotel, Kilbirnie

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I always enjoy the depth of experience and perspective that is in any REAP meeting.

Our government is working continuously towards an improved education future in New Zealand. Central themes are the reforms in the field of adult and community education, early childhood, the desire to improve literacy and numeracy skills in our primary and secondary schools, and improving school capability.

On top of this, we are driven by the need to make education as relevant and useful to today’s students as it can be. This means supporting the expansion and use of Information Communications Technologies (ICT) to improve both access to education and the quality of learning.

In this country we have always had a very high regard for education. It is one of this country’s core beliefs that everyone, irrespective of their background, gender, location, or ethnicity, should have the opportunity to participate in education, and contribute to New Zealand society.

With this in mind, the challenge for the government is to develop and support an education system where all New Zealanders succeed. This means it needs to be responsive to the diversity of students and their needs and be driven by a strong sense of quality and high expectations.

While, on average, our students do very well and our best are outstanding, we are still a long way short of the ideal where everyone does as well as they should. To achieve this we need to get a lot of things right.

We need to keep focusing on results and more generally, tailor what we do so we can influence them for the better and raise quality. This represents a considerable shift away from the emphasis, several years ago, on compliance (i.e. ‘bums on seats’).

Another important mind-shift is the concept of strong foundations as the basis for all learning. This means extending the focus well beyond early childhood education into primary school and beyond, to include second-chance learners and adult literacy.

To achieve this we need to reduce barriers between sectors, and improve links between agencies, so that we are picking up adults as well children, who have fallen through the cracks.

In this regard it is certain that REAPs will continue to play a crucial role encouraging participation in learning in rural areas, providing local knowledge and support, and helping to ensure smooth transitions between sectors for both teachers and students.

The government’s Early Childhood Strategy recognises that the first step to improving educational outcomes is to encourage participation in quality learning programmes from a young age. This will be achieved by:

promoting ECE participation projects; working with families and communities to improve ECE network planning and provision; better management support for ECE services; and promoting ECE teacher supply.

It is well known that REAPs are working effectively to support rural ECE centres and encourage isolated families to become involved. Your contribution here is invaluable. Complex challenges also need to be faced within the school sector. It is imperative that our children are given the opportunity and support to succeed, giving them the ability to leave school with the highest qualification they can achieve. With this in mind, we must strive constantly to improve until every school can count every student a success.

The best results occur when the whole school is geared to the task. Governance and leadership create the environment that enables teachers to teach and students to learn effectively.

Whole-school solutions are based on an alignment of clear goal-setting, planning, resource management, professional development, teaching, and monitoring of student progress. They engage family, whanau and community. They motivate, challenge and support the whole student.

REAPs have an important role to play in supporting small rural schools. With your local knowledge and expertise, rural schools have an excellent resource at their disposal. You have a proven track record of providing quality advice to first-time principals and teachers, in addition to the provision of remedial learning classes and holiday programmes for students.

Some of the most significant changes have occurred and will continue to occur in the adult and community education sector. The government’s ACE reforms are underway with the establishment of the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) on 1 January this year.

With the implementation of the five-year Tertiary Education Strategy, New Zealand has received its most comprehensive and far-reaching plan for tertiary education.

For the first time, all adult tertiary education provision, funding, and research will be ‘housed under the same roof’ through TEC. This includes universities, polytechnics, wananga, colleges of education, Private Training Establishments, Industry Training Organisations, Training Opportunities and Youth Training providers.

These reforms aim to encourage tertiary education organisations to move away from competition to consider greater collaboration, concentration of resources, and specialisation.

The objective is to build on the many strengths of the current system to create a world-class education system, highly relevant to our economy and society. The new system will be focused on the world, able to meet the future development needs of our nation, and distinctively ‘New Zealand’ in its style and tone.

The challenge for REAP in the 21st century will be to ensure that you remain as dynamic agencies with a responsive, holistic view of service delivery. Your cross-sectoral nature and knowledge of local needs is undoubtedly your strength, enabling you to operate in the manner envisioned by the ACE reforms.

Your contribution to improving the educational outcomes of your communities is admirable, and I would like to thank you for the many hours of work and travel that you put in to ensure the success of your organisations.

I know we all look forward to a bright future for REAP, and I trust it will be even more successful than the years to date. Thank you.

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