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The way forward for education

Hon Trevor Mallard
24 September 2003 Speech Notes


The way forward for education
Speech to the PPTA annual conference, Brentwood Hotel, Wellington.

It is good to be here addressing you in what feels like a season of relative calm after the tumult of recent years.

I want to play my part in keeping it that way.

That grand old philosopher Bertrand Russell once said: “It's co-existence or no existence.” There is truth in that – but perhaps for us, the idea needs to go further. Maybe, “It’s co-operation or no operation”.

Working at odds with each other, without a sense of co-operation, means things grind to a virtual halt. That is because of the centrality of quality teaching to success in our schools. It is because of the lynchpin-value of teachers to student achievement.

I want to start off by acknowledging your tremendous work on the NCEA - as a profession you have dug deep to make it work. In the end, it was your co-operation that made it happen. Without your time, energy and perseverance, secondary qualifications would be in tatters.

Looking back, I don’t think any of us quite knew what we were in for - it would be fair to say we all under-scoped the NCEA.

But having done those first hard yards, the sector is now starting to get a glimpse of what’s possible.

Teachers of maths, English and geography were correctly assessing on the national standard in at least 95 per cent of cases in the first year. That is a stunning statistic that shows how professional assessment in schools can be.

Teachers are also using the information published from last year’s results to improve learning for students. Eighty three per cent of respondents to a survey had viewed the statistics by June. About 60 per cent had used data to inform teaching and learning and monitor achievement.

This evidence-based approach can only improve the learning going on in secondary schools.

As well as glimpsing the possibilities offered by NCEA, we’ve also glimpsed the risks involved to students, to teachers and to government of working at odds.

Today I want us to explore a future that fosters new ways of relating. Ways that don’t put us at odds, but instead provide different and safe ways for debating issues that matter to us both.

The Secondary Futures Project, launched a couple of weeks ago, is perhaps the first platform for us to try out this new way of working.

The purpose of the project is to have a broad ranging discussion about how to position secondary schooling to achieve the best possible student outcomes in the year 2020.

To achieve this, I could have set up a traditional ministerial inquiry, taskforce or royal commission. But in this case, I just didn't think that approach would work.

The only way I could see this project working was to try a new method of engagement – one which put government and the sector on an equal footing, and where mutual responsibility, trust and commitment could develop.

So this project is future looking in two senses.

It looks to the future possibilities in schooling – to harness the best of what we are doing now, explore new opportunities and put them in to practise.

It also models a new way of us – the sector and the government – engaging in policy debates of the future.

Over the last few months, I have been working with your president, and members of the PPTA staff, as well as representatives from other education sector organisations to develop the Secondary Futures Project.

What has emerged is a project framework that is independent, engaging and iterative. To achieve it, both government and the PPTA have given up some of their traditional ground.

Government has loosened its control. The PPTA has given up its ability to heckle from the sidelines. But in exchange we have got something that is potentially more powerful, more valuable, for enabling us to move forward.

The concept the education groups that designed this project came up with means it will be managed, not by the government, but by four independent guardians.

These guardians are tasked with giving the process its independence and integrity. It is through them that we hope to create a space in which it is safe for the PPTA, the wider sector and government to debate what secondary education could be like in the future.

By creating that safe space for debate, I hope we will all see a fresh kind of discussion, with less antagonism, less position taking and more consensus building.

I hope you will embrace the opportunity this project presents, to determine your own future and the future of your students in years to come.

Network Issues

Another area in which government is trying to use a co-operative approach with the education community is in network issues.

Demographic growth and decline both pose challenges for communities as they grapple with how best to match provision to student needs.

Working collaboratively with communities, where government decisions are based on community recommendations is working. That still doesn’t mean it is easy.

There is a lot of emotion tied up in a community’s existing network of schools. But there is also a lot of risk.

The only thing more destructive to school 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 gone ahead on area reviews, with a total of seven now completed for implementation in 2004.

There are 11 new reviews in operation, of which six have secondary or composite provision to be implemented for 2005.

The need for reviews will continue for some time and demographic change will affect the viability of some current secondary provision. However, I can advise that there are no more reviews planned for this year.

It is vital that we ensure that there are stable networks that work for the benefit of students. This in turn provides stability for teachers and ensures resources can focus on teaching and learning, not on unnecessary school infrastructure.

Network reviews are not about reducing spending on education in an area. They are about getting communities to decide how they can best use government money to help their young people learn.

Quality teaching and the Best Evidence Syntheses

Clearly, these co-operative processes for engagement are still evolving. But they are about more than a shift in process. Both the Secondary Futures Project and the network reviews are about a shift in focus.

I want the fundamental debate in education to be about student achievement and how we can support and promote effective, quality teaching.

The recently released Best Evidence Synthesis on quality teaching provides us with a strong foundation to make that shift.

The research tells us that quality teaching is a key influence on outcomes for diverse students.

Teaching that impacts positively on underachievement raises achievement right across the spectrum.

Rich or poor, brown or white, whatever the child’s previous record of achievement - the Best Evidence Synthesis says loud and clear that quality teaching really matters.

I think one of the dangers of stressing the importance of quality teaching is that teachers feel they are then lumbered with the solo challenge of lifting achievement – and doing so overnight.

It comes back to that issue of co-operation. Government and the teaching profession must share this responsibility. And we acknowledge it needs to take time.

For its part, the government must support and resource the teaching profession. We can do that by creating a robust information infrastructure.

TKI and Leadspace are the beginning of that web of resources. We can help connect teachers with each other, and in turn connect the profession with our training institutions and our centres of research.

Assessment tools are another resource we can provide from the centre to help practice in the classroom.

For your part, you have a responsibility to use the evidence base that is emerging to inform and enhance your professional practice.

You also have a critical responsibility to lift expectations and challenge deficit model beliefs that hold students back.

If we can create a system where responsibility is taken by all parties to lift achievement, we can move the debate on.

Instead of talking about whose responsibility it is, let’s talk about how, together, we can get the most effective strategies available in the most schools. Let’s value the contribution that each of us can make to that challenge.

Secondary Teacher's Remuneration

Issues about remuneration are a valid and important part of the discussion about quality teaching. The issue of secondary teacher remuneration has generated a lot of passionate debate recently.

I'm very pleased to announce today the development of a new national, level 7 qualification for groups of G3 equivalent teachers who do not meet the criteria for G3+.

The proposal for this qualification came from the Ministerial Taskforce on Secondary Teacher Remuneration as an early recommendation.

I sincerely hope this will be a solution that will recognise the current skills and knowledge of the teachers concerned - and be professionally enhancing at the same time.

While the PPTA advocates grand-parenting as a way through the issue, it is my view that teachers wishing to obtain the qualification will need to go through an assessment process.

Let me be up-front. Until they have gone through the assessment process, we won’t know how many G3 equivalent teachers will need to undertake additional learning to meet the requirements of the new diploma. It would be wrong of me to guess how many or how few until that process of assessment is complete.

A specialist group will start designing this new qualification immediately, with the target of getting the diploma up and running by the start of 2004.

This is a big ask as development of a qualification usually takes many months. It also takes time to get the qualification registered on the National Qualifications Framework.

The group will identify the current unit standards that would be part of the qualification and identify areas where standards may need to be developed.

They will advise on proportions of credit exemption and credit transfer for existing qualifications. They will also identify standards for recognising informal learning and the level of rigour for assessing it.

This proposal provides a timely opportunity to co-ordinate objectives from across ministry divisions and meet broader government policy goals for increasing the capability of teachers in the curriculum area.

The level of government support for this proposal reflects the need to address the potential recruitment and retention risks to secondary teachers, as well as support their development.

That is why my colleagues have agreed to a financial commitment from the government to support teachers who undertake the diploma.

The government will refund half the course fees, the cost of which is yet to be determined, and will provide up to two weeks study leave for each teacher who is engaged in the diploma.

I am also prepared to backdate to February 2004, the progression to step 14 for those teachers who enrol in the new qualification in 2004 and achieve the qualification without being required to undertake further learning.

This is much bigger than the G3 issue. It is about the whole challenge of creating wider and more exciting career pathways for teachers. It is about providing recognition for teachers who show greater competency.

We need better ways of thinking about how teachers' professional growth and knowledge acquisition is guided over time and how we recognise it in the remuneration system.

We need to be sure teachers’ commitment of time and effort into professional growth is invested in the right areas.

We need to know that that investment will be rewarded in a fair and transparent way.

With these issues in mind, I look forward to the report of The Ministerial Taskforce on Secondary Teacher Remuneration, due in October this year.

Operations Funding

I know that as well as remuneration for teachers, the issue of resourcing generally is integral to any discussion about quality.

I don't recall any occasion in the 100-plus years the state has been funding education in New Zealand, when government's been told, "Thanks, that's great. We've got enough money now."

Nor do I think any one of us could – within the realms of fiscal possibility – pin down the magic dollar-figure that would lead to that situation in the future.

What I can pin down is that funding for education, since Labour formed the government, is trending upwards at double the rate of inflation.

Between 1999 and 2003, the total budget for compulsory education went up $676 million, or 20 per cent.

From the 1999 to 2002 financial years this government has increased the value of operational funding by $151 million. At secondary level, that's a real value increase of 11.7 per cent per student. Another two per cent increase was in this year's budget and will flow into schools at the start of next year.

Yes, schools are raising more money from local sources. But total school funding has increased.

That means the proportion of total revenue from local funds increased by just one point six per cent between 1995 and 2001. So, schools are no more reliant on local funds now, than they have been in recent years.

I can't promise that during my time as Minister, we will reach a point where schools say "Thanks, we've got enough".

What I can promise is that each year, I will argue as hard as I to ensure the biggest possible slice of the budget cake goes to education.

Conclusion

Before he passed away, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Clarence Beeby. We discussed education, and delivered high quality Labour Party material together.

He was a visionary thinker. His desire to focus the system on giving each child “equality of opportunity to achieve to the best of their ability” still strikes a powerful chord today. That it forms the theme for your conference this year is testament to the fact that both the vision and the challenge remain.

What has changed is the social and economic context of New Zealand society in which that vision sits.

My feeling is that we have made progress in the area of ‘opportunity’, but we still have a distance to go in delivering ‘equality’.

With this in the back of our minds, government, has developed two overarching goals to drive our work to improve educational outcomes.

The Statement of Education Priorities released earlier this year describes them as:

First, building an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills, and

Second, reducing systematic underachievement in education.

The concepts I have explored today about moving forward in co-operation and focusing on quality teaching for achievement are critical to helping us reach those goals.

I value your partnership in this process. I invite you to join me in fostering a new way of working together, and a renewed focus on what really matters in education – quality teaching and learning.

ENDS

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