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Mallard Speech: Educating for our future

Trevor Mallard Speech: Educating for our future – government priorities

to NZEI Te Riu Roa Annual Meeting, Duxton Hotel, Wellington.

Thank-you for inviting me here to address your conference today. I’d like to start off by congratulating you on the contribution you have made in the past year to the work our government is doing in education.

We’ve got a good constructive working relationship in place that I value highly. I am sure it will continue.

Today I have been asked to talk about our key education policies and areas of focus for the year ahead.

As you know, this year’s budget provided significant spending for education – one third of total new spending.

This government is investing so heavily in education because we believe it’s a critical springboard for economic growth and our development as a country.

Even with that degree of investment, it is easy for us all to say, more should be done. In that context, the challenge for government is to set priorities.

The Education Priorities for New Zealand document released in May is the backbone of this government’s drive to be more explicit about what we want to achieve. It illustrates our desire to really focus on things that actually make a difference.

It draws from existing education strategies, such as the Early Childhood Strategic Plan and literacy and numeracy strategies and provides an overview of how all the pieces of the education jigsaw fit together.

Education Priorities sets out two key goals to drive government’s work to improve educational outcomes.

These priorities are to build an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills; and reduce underachievement in education to ensure that all New Zealanders can reach their potential.

While the system produces good results on average, too many New Zealanders are falling between the cracks.

We are gathering more and more information about results for kids and what works to improve their achievement.

This is providing a clearer picture of the strengths of our schooling system and the framework for our focus as a government.

The Early Childhood Education Strategic Plan is in place. To give the same coherence to our priorities in the compulsory sector, the year ahead will see the development of a schooling strategy.

While there’s a range of polices and programmes that provide a rough sketch of our approach to schooling, this project will bring into sharp focus a unifying vision for schooling.

It will also have an important role in crystallising our thinking on priorities for strengthening schooling over the next 3-5 years.

I want to emphasise that this is not a vehicle for major structural reform. It will not start from a zero-base and it will not stop the work in progress on policy issues and relationship building.

It is part of an on-going process to keep a conversation flowing around improving results for all kids.

Your contribution to this process is essential and I hope you will take the opportunity to participate and engage in this discussion.

If we are going to reach either of our goals, with regard to 21st Century skills or reducing underachievement, we need a stronger focus on quality teaching and how we go about supporting it.

To get there, we'll all need to share knowledge about what works, and how quality teaching can make a difference.

I’m not talking about what is fashionable, feels good, or should work in theory. I’m talking about what research shows actually works in making a difference to student achievement.

In this respect, the recently published Best Evidence Syntheses on Quality Teaching in Early Childhood and Schooling are practical resources for educators, policy makers, researchers and the wider community.

This is groundbreaking research that for the first time draws together international and New Zealand educational research and evaluation evidence about how to effectively improve learning.

I value the discussion I had with union leaders, including the NZEI, at the workshop on the Best Evidence Syntheses.

Such partnerships with teachers are imperative if we are to make the gains we need.

Quality teaching requires teachers to be attracted and retained into the profession.

One way that this government is working on this is in partnership with teacher unions through the Working Party on Primary School Teachers’ Qualifications.

The working party had its first meeting in mid August and includes representatives from NZEI.

It is working to ensure high and improving levels of capability among new and existing teachers.

We know that quality teaching reduces underachievement, regardless of the size of students' shoes, so it is as much a focus in Early Childhood as it is in schooling.

You will know that quality is one of the core goals of Pathways to the Future: the Early Childhood Strategic Plan – along with participation and collaboration.

This government is boosting the numbers of qualified teachers in the sector and working to attract more in.

Through this year’s budget, we have increased the number of incentive grants that are allocated to services to allow their staff to undertake programmes of teacher education to 500 a year.

This is a continuation of our commitment to help early childhood education staff upgrade their qualifications.

A total of 101 early childhood teacher education scholarships have been allocated to Mäori and Pasifika students to increase the number of qualified Mäori and Pasifika early childhood education teachers.

There is also a range of initiatives aimed at raising other aspects of quality in early childhood education.

In May this year I announced that six centres, to be known as Centres of Innovation, have been chosen to work in collaboration with researchers to research and disseminate innovative practices.

This landmark initiative aims to capture the experience of the people working at the coalface of early childhood education.

The network planning and support initiative is now well underway.

It is all about government working alongside communities to help ensure better access to quality early childhood education services.

Currently seven network co-ordinators are working with communities where early participation is low to facilitate the supply of services.

Later this year, advice and support co-ordinators will be appointed to work with community-based services that need extra help.

To make sure we achieve the goals of the plan we need to ensure that all the relevant early childhood education experts in the public service are under the one roof.

That is why I decided to integrate Early Childhood Development (ECD) into the Ministry of Education, effective from October this year.

I would now like to take a look at what is going on in primary to spread 21st century skills and lift achievement.

Literacy and numeracy are critical 21st century skills, as well as being fundamental in our drive to lift achievement.

The Literacy and Numeracy strategies have put a real spring in the step of primary schooling.

Gains have been posted for kids. Programmes like the Early Childhood Primary Link via Literacy Initiative, which is part of the Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara (SEMO) work, show what works.

The research that was undertaken on this initiative demonstrates that professional development has made a real difference to student learning.

A key finding was that schools and teachers that tracked student progress over time and used this information to adapt and target teaching, were able to sustain levels of achievement. Another key finding was that professional development raised teachers’ expectations of what their students could achieve. The study found that such changes in practice and expectation reduced the impact of students' socio-economic background on achievement.

This backs up what this government is focussing on in education.

We believe that every child, regardless of their background, can aim high, and should be given the chance to do so.

We’re keen to apply the lessons learned from this and other professional development initiatives more widely and we are currently reviewing professional development with this in mind.

The Literacy Strategy has continued to evolve since 1999. The emphasis now is on improving teachers’ practice.

From next year a new Literacy Professional Development Project will replace Literacy Leadership. It will have a major focus on improving the literacy practice of teachers.

As part of this years budget, I was pleased to announce $15 million for a new initiative: Effective Literacy in all Primary Schools. This programme, which will fund 15 Literacy Development Officers, will have links to all current literacy initiatives.

The 15 Literacy Development Officers will work alongside schools and be based in regional and local offices of the Ministry of Education. Thirteen will work in English and two in Mäori medium.

The first 10 will be working in schools from next March.

A range of literacy resources are currently available in schools. However, principals and teachers often don’t know which of these best meet the needs of their teachers and students.

The brokerage role of the literacy development officers will ensure that schools access the appropriate resource.

As they are regionally positioned, literacy development officers will be able to build up a regional understanding of the literacy needs and subsequent professional development needs of schools and teachers.

As well as helping schools on a local basis, this regional information will help build a national picture about where to place literacy professional development support.

Like literacy, numeracy is a foundation skill for raising achievement.

This government is spending more than $11 million a year on Numeracy Professional Development Projects.

We are on track to meet the target of giving all Year One to Three teachers the opportunity to participate by the end of 2005. All primary teachers will get the chance by 2008.

The report about the Early Childhood Primary Links programme I mentioned before, shows the kinds of professional communities leaders and teachers need to create and maintain if they are to sustain achievement gains.

I’m pleased to announce today that after two years of successful development and piloting, 80 to 100 of our most remote schools will get access to full online facilitation to help with numeracy programmes. This will be made available to schools from next year.

The pilot confirmed this web-based development with its on-line workshops, journal and facilitator, together with a CD-ROM of teaching examples, creates a successful approach to teacher learning.

The online material will also be made available to the 600-odd schools which take part in the numeracy development project. Lead teachers in each school will receive further training in the use of the online material to support their colleagues.

The material will also be made available to all pre-service teacher education lecturers and trainee-teachers to widen awareness.

As this example demonstrates, use of ICT is not just something students need to master as a 21st century skill. It is a vital teaching and learning tool, for helping us meet our achievement goals in education.

Lack of bandwidth has been preventing many provincial schools from accessing many teaching and learning resources and opportunities.

Project Probe will be injecting high-speed internet into all schools and provincial communities by the end of 2004.

Provincial areas will receive a similar level of service to that currently available in the main urban centres.

This will make it possible for schools throughout New Zealand to use the internet as an integral teaching, professional development, and administration tool.

The potential here is huge and exciting as it means teachers and students in far flung places around the country will be able to get together online.

Year 7 and 8 teachers should now be receiving their laptops. I’m keen on hearing from you about who should be included in the next rollout phase.

The use of ICT is one side of the quality teaching and learning that we want to promote.

School network reviews also fit in to this picture and are equally about ensuring our kids get quality education that is sustainable, regardless of where they live.

Most of the headlines about network reviews focus on rationalisation in areas where populations are declining.

But growth in the population, for example around greater Auckland, also offers opportunities to try to better match provision to student needs.

I recently announced a break from the traditional model by establishing a junior secondary school (for years 7 to 10) in Albany.

The aim is to link it to a senior (years 11 to 13) college on the nearby Massey University campus.

I am convinced that this new and different approach will bring significant benefits to future junior and senior school students.
If we are serious about tackling achievement issues, we need to address school network issues before they become a problem.

One thing that is more destructive to communities than a planned network review is the slow and messy decline that takes place as populations drop and schools bleed dry of students.

A lot of work has progressed on area reviews, with a total of seven now completed for implementation in 2004.

There are 11 new reviews in operation, to be implemented for 2005. The need for reviews will continue for some time.

The primary school population is forecast to drop by 70,000 students over the next 15 years and it’s vital we plan for that sort of demographic shift.

However, I can advise that there are no more reviews scheduled for this year.

At the heart of the reviews is making sure that quality education can continue to be provided to students well into the future. We want education resources to be spent on children, not on underused buildings.

The recent Education Review Office report on the Wainuioumata school review process pointed out some areas for improvement. These are areas the Ministry of Education is already working on and will continue to refine for the newly announced reviews.

One of the improvements is that the ministry has been given additional funds to co-ordinate support for the educational development of individual schools and new school clusters following a review.

The ministry will help boards and new principal assess what the educational needs of the newly forming schools and the cluster are as a whole.

The aim will be to develop strategic plans for the schools. The idea is to think through how they can best use the considerable amount of Education Development Initiative funding released from the review to achieve their educational goals.

We want to maintain and improve an educational focus while attending to the many other issues that need to be addressed, such as property needs and achieving a new community identity.

It’s important that as a result of this, each continuing school embeds a culture that results in all curriculum and professional development activities being driven off goals that relate to student achievement and self reviews.

A protocol has been reached between NZEI and the ministry to ensure support staff are treated fairly in merger or closure situations.

I am pleased that agreement has been reached with your union that as from 2004 for the next round of reviews, principals’ positions in merging schools will be advertised nationally.

This, coupled with the work being carried out on the process of principal appointments, will ensure that the best person for the job can be appointed to provide strong leadership for newly merged schools.

I am optimistic the principals’ contract negotiations next year will go as smoothly as they did this year.

One thing I would like to see is more emphasis placed on recognition of principal professional development. A working party is to commence shortly on professional growth for principals and I want this work to inform the next contract round.

The working party will look at how to recognise professional growth and performance, including issues such as salary adjustments, sabbatical leave and secondments.

We need to keep focussing on the things that will really make a difference to students and their future. We need to make sure our programmes give students the skills they need for the 21st century and that lift student achievement across the board.

As a government we believe this is important for economic growth and it’s critical for New Zealand society as a whole.

The list of things that are good to do in education is probably endless.

We cannot do them all because time and resources are limited.

We need to build on our gains, explore the opportunities, and together work to find innovative, leading-edge solutions to support and improve student achievement.

It’s our future.

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