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Mallard: school trustees role in education goals

Trevor Mallard Speech: Role of school trustees in delivering education goals

(Opening address to the New Zealand School Trustees Association Annual Conference, Blenheim.) Thank-you for the opportunity to deliver the opening speech to your annual conference today. My message today is that New Zealand already has a good education system and we are in the process of making it even better.

Prioritising is important – finding where we can make the most difference and focussing our efforts there.

Two months ago I released the statement on our Government’s education priorities for New Zealand.

The document pulls together the programmes, initiatives and hard work going on across the sector to establish two key goals for the next three years.

The first goal set out in the education priorities statement is to “build an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills.”

The second is to “reduce underachievement in education”.

I want to talk a bit today about these goals and how the valuable role you play in our schools is contributing to them, and building on this work.

I also want to look to the future and set out some thoughts on future directions for trusteeship.

Building an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills means that our educational institutions need to be able to change and adapt swiftly to the changes in our economy and society, and global trends. To give students a place among the ranks of the flexible knowledge workers of the 21st century, schools need to be providing them with new kinds of skills and knowledge. ICT is an incredible tool for learning and ICT skills are now essential for work and for life in the modern world.

The recent $77.6 million budget announcement of new ICT money for schools, teachers and students shows just how seriously the Government sees this as a priority. The budget package is also designed to bring national coherence to ICT development across the school sector by developing information technology and infrastructure. I’m pleased to see the extent to which schools are become wired-up – and not just in the cities.

Project Probe is a programme that will deliver high speed broadband Internet to rural areas around New Zealand by the end of next year.

It will ensure the infrastructure is in place across the length and breadth of the country to support the development of a wide range of broadband applications.

Broadband will enable schools to videoconference, opening up new learning opportunities that will be especially valuable to small remote schools in the regions.

ICT and E-learning are important tools in diversifying and strengthening schooling to better meet all students’ needs.

So it’s important for our students’ sake that we establish both a wide grasp of the basic skills of computer literacy needed to function in today’s world, and the opportunities to take those skills to another level.

New Zealand has already proven that it can lead and innovate in ICT projects, and education can help ensure that we continue to grow our strength in this area.

Our Government also wants to encourage more people into high quality tertiary education and training after they leave school, and ensure that we have more graduates in skill areas that are aligned to labour market needs and national priorities.

That is why this years Budget included a comprehensive package of initiatives to ensure all 15-19 year olds are involved in education, training, work or other options by 2007.

A highlight of this is the expansion of the Gateway Programme - which provides senior students with a range of structured learning opportunities in workplaces – to all decile 1-5 schools from 2006.

Earlier I spoke of education system that enables everyone to reach his or her full potential.

Unfortunately we’re not there yet and our second education priority - reducing underachievement - aims to turn that around.

Many New Zealanders do achieve high standards and we do comparatively well on average in international studies of achievement.

But we also have far too many learners who are not reaching their potential. Far too many young people still leave school without adequate qualifications.

Some groups in our communities, such as Maori and Pasifika students, are over-represented in these statistics.

But underachievement is a big issue for everyone.

We need to equip our young people with the knowledge and skills they need to get sustainable, high quality jobs.

A first step is to get across the message that everyone is expected to achieve in education, and that we need to build a system that responds to students from diverse backgrounds.

No one should be “written-off” – our schools need to help every single student to succeed, and not select out the elite few for higher education.

Students flourish in schools that have both effective governance and effective leadership. Governance is the interface between the school’s management and key stakeholders.

Each school’s board of trustees is legally responsible for governance – setting school policy and directing the school’s management – and is fully accountable for how the school works.

So what do we want from our boards of trustees – and are our expectations of the role changing?

We don’t expect you to be experts in teaching and management.

Your job is to ensure that the school is being successfully led and managed and that all students in the school are learning well.

As I see it, your role has four basic aspects:

Setting the school’s overall direction, within the national guidelines; Representing parent and taxpayer interests in the school; Appointing the principal and working in partnership to ensure the school is well led; Monitoring and assessing the performance of the school and its principal.

More specifically the school should have clear targets and objectives to improve outcomes and reduce the numbers of students who are underachieving.

We look to the school board to direct resources and energy to that end, to monitor the professional staff’s achievement of the board’s targets – but not to get into the day-to-day activity of running the school.

Trusteeship also needs to keep abreast with changing times. Models of trusteeship are becoming more flexible, to better meet the needs of students and their communities.

The introduction of mid-term elections has allowed schools to manage succession planning for boards more purposefully.

The first mid-term election was held in September 2002, with approximately 12 per cent of schools involved.

More and more boards are approaching me with proposals for alternative or combined governance options.

Late last year I approved two of these in integrated schools, one providing a combined board for a primary and a secondary integrated school, another for three primary schools.

The Ministry of Education will also be working with school communities to encourage more parents to come forward as candidates in next year’s triennial elections.

In particular, I am keen to see an increase in the number of Mäori and Pasifika trustees on boards, and strategies are being developed to support these communities in putting forward candidates.

It’s important we have Maori and Pasifika trustees to ensure that boards have input from the communities where we are seeking to boost achievement levels.

A range of training and support is available to trustees at no cost.

This includes board training, in-depth support and individual mentoring, support for planning and reporting, EEO training, networking for Maori and Pasifika trustees in the minority on boards, and training for new trustees.

I would encourage you to take up these options. Trustees who do so find the opportunity to learn from other trustees’ experience and to share issues and solutions enormously valuable.

Last year at this conference I said the Government was committed to linking this training to national qualifications.

I would like to take this opportunity to outline some of the work that is underway to meet this commitment and my expectations of these developments.

First of all let me explain why the Government is committed to the use of national standards and qualifications as tools for the recognition of knowledge and skills in the area of Board of Trustee training.

At the heart of the commitment is the expectation that there should be opportunities for a person’s knowledge and skills to be recognised within our tertiary education system.

The Government’s Tertiary Education Strategy set out its first objective as:

“Improved strategic capacity and leadership at both governance and management level”.

This aim is equally important across all our education providers, primary, secondary included.

A key aspect in using the National Qualifications Framework is the opportunity the Framework gives to learners to gain recognition for existing skills and knowledge.

Many trustees have come to the job with the skills and knowledge already and many others have learnt much in their new roles.

Using the Framework will enable both those Trustees who attend the formal courses and others to gain recognition against the national standards.

I understand that School Trustee Association staff have done some considerable work in identifying and writing appropriate unit standards, together with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and that it’s expected that these standards will be registered and available on the National Qualifications Framework in 2003.

This year will also see the development of a school sector strategy that unifies the wide range of work already underway.

It will articulate and co-ordinate the core elements of the Government’s immediate and medium term plan for action in the schooling sector.

Part of this work will be a visioning exercise aimed at opening up a wider discussion with the sector and community on the longer-term future direction for secondary schooling.

I want to see this discussion developed and owned jointly with the sector in partnership with the government.

It is not really clear how secondary schooling should look in twenty years' time. The only thing I feel sure of is that yesterday's models will not be appropriate.

I hope that the NZSTA and individual boards will take the opportunity to contribute to these discussions.

I am confident that the implementation of the schools planning and reporting policy has removed any lingering doubts that any of you may have had about our intentions in introducing this policy.

I have talked about the improvements that the Government wants to see for our students. I hope that all trustees share our vision.

It is in the context of a shared commitment to improved outcomes for our young people that I want to refer briefly to boards’ roles in setting school policies.

The Government is totally committed to the idea of self-governing schools. People who have first-hand knowledge of the schools’ students are much better placed than any centralised bureaucrats to make decisions that are responsive to those students needs.

However, I would like to reflect on how our priorities for education fit within the self-governing framework for state schools and independent schools.

Within the network of state schools, we expect boards of trustees to ensure that they respond to the needs of all of their own students, particularly those at risk of underachieving.

New Zealand as a country has, for too long, attributed the underachievement of certain groups and individuals to their socio-economic status or ethnicity.

We now have solid evidence that many more students can do a whole lot better if schools have the right expectations and put the appropriate teaching methods in place.

Boards need to be less accepting of student failure within their schools.

In most cases ensuring that the school is doing the best that can be done for every single student will in itself ensure that the government’s education goals are met.

Therefore, the requirement for schools to plan to meet government education policy priorities does not signal a retreat from self-management.

You may be aware by now that we are determined to ensure that local Ministry staff who interact with schools as they send in copies of their charters and reports are helpful and support schools in this process.

I also want to restate our Government’s commitment to supporting schools and students who are potentially at risk.

An education researcher called Michael Fullan has said very wisely that pressure without support leads to frustration, and support without pressure leads to waste.

The Government is committed to working with boards of trustees and with principals and senior staff in schools to find the right balance between these sorts of tensions. The aim for us is that schools are in a position to continuously improve and that they can continuously improve the outcomes for their students.

In conclusion, this Government is committed to building the education system New Zealand needs for the 21st century.

By working together we can ensure that New Zealand remains a great place to work, learn and live.

Thank you for your time today - I’d like to now declare your conference open, and wish you all the best for the next few days.

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