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Education Today and for the Future - Mallard

Hon. Trevor Mallard
4 July 2003 Speech Notes

Education Today and for the Future

Speech to the New Zealand Principals Federation Conference, TSB Stadium, New Plymouth

Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today.

Just over a month ago at the commemorations to mark the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Mount Everest I was struck by the phrase used by the Sherpa people when replying to Hillary’s question of what he could do to help them.

They said: “Our children have eyes but they are blind; we want our children to go to school.”

We are all born with potential and unleashing this potential is very much what an effective education system should be doing.

Two months ago I released the Government’s Education Priorities for New Zealand.

These priorities bring together the programmes, initiatives and hard work that is going on across the education sector to improve educational outcomes for all students.

I am optimistic that these goals are achievable if we maintain a strong, consistent focus.

I want to talk today about these goals and about how your valuable work in schools is contributing to their achievement.

Building on this work - I want to look to the future and talk about the way we see these programmes and initiatives developing.

Two goals were outlined in the Education Priorities document.

First, we need an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills.

The demand today goes beyond narrow technical skills.

We are talking about skills that focus on creative and innovative thinking, skills that will help us to relate to each other, and skills that will give New Zealanders the ability to adapt to the rapidly changing world we live in.

New Zealand’s economic fundamentals are sound but this is a century where the economy and the growth and prosperity of our nation will depend heavily on the development of our greatest resource – our people.

But education is about much more than building a successful innovative economy.

It is also about the development of each individual to their full potential and about the pursuit of values that can’t be expressed in purely monetary terms.

Our second goal is reducing the inequalities in educational achievement to ensure that all New Zealanders, regardless of their background, can reach their potential.

We want our schools and teachers to be in a position where they can recognise the differences between and the educational needs of all students and teach in ways that meet those needs.

The OECD Education at a Glance – Education Indicators Report 2002 noted, with regard to New Zealand and reading performance, that “most variation occurs within schools, suggesting that individual schools need to be able to cater to a more diverse client base.”

Focussing on students from diverse backgrounds is a priority for this Government and for our schools.

This is especially so when we consider that poor educational achievement is concentrated in relatively high proportions amongst low socio-economic and Mäori and Pasifika communities.

And it’s important because we are getting a strong message from teachers that they are seeking more support to improve their teaching of diverse students.

We have seen recent improvements in educational achievement outcomes through literacy and numeracy initiatives that have been focused on the early years.

The evidence tells us that improved responsiveness to Mäori and Pasifika children comes from intensive, evidence-based professional development initiatives.

Both New Zealand-based surveys and international research demonstrate that New Zealand continues to show a wide range of achievement.

This variation is mainly due to variation within each of our schools – and to variation between different classes, rather than to differences between schools.

That is why we are sharpening our focus on effective teaching for all students, directing more energy into the key influences on learning, and evidence-based practice.

We need to ensure that the initiatives and programmes that we are asking you to implement in our schools reflect what the evidence says about what works.

And the evidence is telling us that the single largest system influence on a students’ learning is effective teaching. This is a lesson that is emerging across the OECD.

What teachers do in the classroom and how they do it, how they think about the way they teach, and the expectations they have of their students – all this is hugely influential on their students.

This is not to discount other schooling-based influences and the wider influence of the child’s family and community. This is a crucial point and one that I want to emphasise.

It is really important that the best teaching practices of our most effective teachers are shared with their colleagues throughout the sector.

Our challenge is to increase our efforts to bring this knowledge together and successfully feed it back to New Zealand teachers. We have begun this process through the Ministry of Education’s Quality Teaching for Diverse Students Best Evidence Synthesis.

I have initiated a series of discussions with teacher representatives and leaders about the best way to share and use the evidence from this work, and following these discussions the evidence will be made public.

This year’s budget saw an injection of $15 million over the next four years to drive a concerted approach to improve literacy teaching for all year 1 to 8 students.

This will enable us to move to the next stage in the Literacy Strategy with increased support for primary schools so they can develop an effective literacy programme which meets the needs of all students.

Literacy Development Officers will work collaboratively with schools to review
literacy programmes, providing help and information to strengthen schools’ capability in responding to the expectations and needs of students.

The impact of this programme is expected to be particularly strong for Mäori and Pasifika students as these groups are over-represented in those schools likely to require more intensive support.

We are committed to developing the use of information communications technology (ICT) as a teaching and learning tool.

Over the next four years $4 million will be invested in yearly e-learning fellowships to encourage innovation, and to support teachers who are prepared to push the boundaries and explore in more depth how ICT can enhance learning.

Their findings and outcomes will be widely disseminated, so all teachers can access them, through the ministry’s website for teacher resources Te Kete Ipurangi.

We are serious about giving all teachers who want it the necessary support so they can use ICT effectively in their classroom.

$800,000 over the next four years will provide an online professional development network to support any teacher in New Zealand who wishes to improve their understanding and use of ICT in teaching and learning.

The technology we have at our disposal today is a fantastic tool for connecting professionals across the country.

We have continued investment in regional broadband internet access through Project Probe. The rollout is connecting first our schools and then whole communities with high quality broadband that can create new opportunities for quality teaching, and wider economic benefits to these communities.

Funding in the budget has also been earmarked for an additional 20 ICT professional development clusters.

This means next year there will be 40 new clusters selected to focus on the professional development of teachers so they are confident in using ICT in the classroom.

This programme is now worth close to $10 million per year.

We want to encourage teachers to work with researchers to build a cumulative body of knowledge linking teaching and learning.

The Teaching and Learning Research Initiative is actively seeking such partnerships.

Principals make a huge difference to the quality of teaching experienced by children.

Successes here in New Zealand and international research show that improved classroom teaching practice can be sustained when it’s supported by communities of professional practice.

New Zealand teachers report that other teachers in their school are the most significant source of professional learning.

Strengthening the role of principals as educational leaders is a critical factor in the development and maintenance of such communities.

We have invested a lot in principal development over the last two years and will continue to do so.

Some of you will have been involved in the principals’ induction programme last year and this year.

This programme has been selected by the National College of School Leadership in Nottingham as one of five quality principal induction programmes internationally to be examined in a comparative case study.

Not bad going for a very new venture in a very small country.

All principals who want a laptop should now have been allocated one, as well as a Principals’ Electronic Network (PEN) facilitator and the opportunity to attend LeadSpace workshops.
Planning for development centres for principals is also well underway and the six principals who have been working with the contracted team and the Ministry are pleased with developments to date.

A draft capabilities’ framework for use in the pilot development centres has been circulated to key stakeholder groups for comment, and observers and participants in the pilot are being identified.

In each centre, the plan is for small groups of principals to participate in individual and group activities. Trained principals will then provide feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, and suggest and advise on future professional development.

It is likely that the pilots will be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and possibly Hamilton.

A number of principals have indicated their willingness to be involved in the pilot of the centres which should be running in about August this year, a little later than we had originally envisaged.

The ministry has also recently called for proposals for a pilot programme on Developing aspiring and potential principals. This pilot will run during 2004 and 2005 and is designed to help provide a potential career path for teachers with leadership qualities.

It is expected that participants in the programme will feel confident and able to apply for principals’ positions.

As you know, in 2001 the School Staffing Review Group, which included a representative from the Principals' Federation, recommended a 10-step plan for improved staffing in schools.

Based on the Review Group's recommendations, the Government has already provided over 1,300 extra teachers to schools, and this year's Budget added a further 774 teachers from the beginning of next year, including approximately 412 primary teachers.

I have also made a commitment to fully implement the staffing improvements by 2007 at the latest, and by 2006 if possible.

The extra teachers will help strengthen professional leadership, reduce the maximum average class size in primary schools and reduce the teacher/student ratio for students learning in te reo Mäori.

Overall, this means a reduction in workload and staffing pressures so that teachers can concentrate on teaching and better learning for all students.

The challenge for schools is how they can use this additional resource to improve outcomes for students.

The Schools Planning and Reporting policy recognises the crucial role of principals, as the education leaders in schools, in ensuring that classrooms are places where quality teaching happens.

Planning and reporting builds on a school’s own self-review, with the aim that our schools are focused on outcomes and are effectively engaging and collaborating with their community.

The charter and the annual report will build a picture of progress and become the starting point in a “learning conversation” about achievement in New Zealand schools.

Many schools are finding that the planning and self-review processes they already have satisfy all the new legislative requirements, while others are just starting the process of planning for better student outcomes.

I am looking for every possible way to raise educational achievement by maximising the impact that effective leaders can have on our schools.

Network reviews present one such opportunity. They also provide opportunities to look at the needs of a community and its young people rather than just the needs of individual schools.

Unfortunately identifying educational leaders who can look at the wider needs of the community in a forward-looking way has been sometimes hard to do.

People are having difficulty getting beyond justifying and protecting the status quo.

But there are gains to be made by moving forward.

The reorganisation of schools in Wainuiomata, in my own electorate, has had a positive impact. Staff and student morale is up. The community is more interested in local education issues, and the students are now staying in the area for their education.

As a result of the review, schools have also seized on the chance to extract the best and redesign the rest - for example, redesigning the merging school cultures, philosophies and the use of resources.

I hope that the principals of the new schools which emerge from other network reviews will also seize the opportunity to make a difference: they will have very
enhanced resources with which to do so.

I understand that there is some concern that teachers will not apply for positions where there is no security.

However, my goal is to create a greater stability of the schooling network in the medium term so there is security – for teachers, for students and for the community.

Without some reflection on the demographic trends of a community and an assessment of its future educational needs, many schools are doomed to the future of roll declines, where local schools engage in a self-defeating competition for a diminishing pool of students.

The ministry and sector groups, including the Principals Federation, are engaged in an ongoing process to improve the way in which network reviews are conducted.

So if you have ideas for improving the process, there is a forum for getting those ideas turned into action.

Working together makes a difference. We want to encourage schools to work collaboratively to support innovative new ways of teaching and learning.

One way we are helping do this is through the Collaborative Innovations Fund which provides an annual sum of $1 million to support consortiums of schools or early childhood education services which want to develop new styles of teaching and learning that improve educational outcomes.

One focus for the next few years is to develop a school sector strategy that unifies the larger body of work already underway and integrates current and future work into a sector-wide action plan.

I'm not envisaging this exercise will result in structural or large-scale change.

Rather I am seeking to get your input into what the most important priorities for attention are over the next three to five years.

We hope that this work and all the initiatives and programmes that we will be concentrating on will be characterised by:

- greater collaboration;
- sharing the knowledge about what works;
- a focus on learning outcomes and addressing the tail of underachievement; and,
- more support, and indeed smarter support, from Government to help schools build quality teaching.

Achieving the goals that I mentioned earlier of building an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills and that reduces systematic underachievement will require the whole system to maintain an unwavering focus on improving students’ education and achievement.

We want to work with you as principals and with school communities in a positive future-focused approach to achieve this.

Thank you for your time today, and all the best for the final two days of your conference.

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