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Mallard Speech to Tauranga Chamber of Commerce

Trevor Mallard Speech to Tauranga Chamber of Commerce

Spinnakers Restaurant, Harbour Bridge Marina, Tauranga

Thanks very much for the invitation to speak to you. I want to begin with a bit of a presentation about our priorities in education, some of the areas of work I am particularly interested in, and then I will open it up to questions and answers.

Education is the foundation for a modern society and economy. For New Zealand as a country to continue to prosper in the future, we need an education system that provides our children with the highest possible standard of teaching and learning.

That is why after periods of administrative and assessment reform I have now put an unambiguous priority on improving achievement.

We've got a good education system, but we can and we must do better. By international standards, we're doing pretty well, however there are still too many of our children who are allowed to fall through the cracks.

I want us to have an education system where every child is expected to succeed. We need to ensure that every child fulfils their potential to the highest possible standard.

As a minimum, every child should leave school with the ability to read, write and do maths. They should have not only a good understanding of the subjects they have studied, but just as importantly really strong skills in areas like problem solving, creativity and information management.

We have two main priorities in education. We want to build an education system that equips New Zealanders with 21st century skills and we want to reduce the underachievement that is being experienced in parts of the system.

We want to see more students achieving in the top 25 per cent of students in the OECD and achieving the highest possible standards in upper secondary qualifications.

We want more students participating and succeeding in tertiary education and training, and more people in industry training. We want more graduates in priority skill areas.

And we are after higher quality research and more effective linkages with the other sectors that are important for New Zealand's economic growth and social development.

If we're going to raise the standard of our whole education system, we need to start early. That's one of the key reasons why I'm placing such a high priority on early childhood education.

When I became Minister of Education I retained the early childhood portfolio rather than delegating it to one of my associates as previous ministers have done. That decision reflects the high priority I place on this area.

We know from research that if a child has had quality early childhood education, it makes a huge difference to their educational achievement later on. I want to ensure that every child in New Zealand has the opportunity to participate in quality early childhood education.

Literacy and numeracy is also a major focus and we are putting $43 million a year into literacy work alone. Ensuring that every child attains minimum standards in reading and writing is a fundamental priority.

International research shows our primary school children have maintained a consistently high standard in reading over the past decade – third in the OECD. But we also know we have one of the widest ranges in literacy achievement within our schools.

Results of an international research programme, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment 2000) show that on average at age 15 New Zealand is among the top scoring countries in the OECD in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy.

However, the results also indicate that we have groups of students performing as poorly as the very poor performing countries and we have one of the largest in-school variations in the OECD.

The Literacy Strategy has evolved since 1999 – the emphasis is now on improving teachers’ practice as we know from research that teachers are the single biggest influence on student achievement inside the classroom.

We’ve introduced new assessment tools - that are attracting international attention - that are far better than any bland rote-learning type national testing regime.

Asttle - the Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning - is proving to be incredibly valuable and successful in helping teachers and parents assess how students are performing in literacy and numeracy, and target their teaching to address any shortcomings or weaknesses.

Asttle ensures that every child is achieving to the highest standard by allowing schools to see how their students are doing compared to the rest of the class, compared to the rest of the school, and nationally.

The tools are voluntary but the take up by schools so far is around 90 per cent.

NCEA is also doing its part here because for the first time teachers, parents and students can see how their child is specifically doing in literacy and numeracy standards.

This year is the final year of implementation of NCEA as level 3 and the new scholarship examination come on line.

NCEA means the 50 per cent of students who were automatically condemned to failure under the School Certificate system, can for the first time gain recognition for the skills they have attained. Employer groups helped with the development of NCEA , and the feedback I’m getting is that they are happy with it.

Why? Because for the first time employers can get a detailed picture of a school leavers' skills. For the first time, they know for sure that minimum standards in critical areas like reading and writing have been attained.

If you are a builder looking for an apprentice, the old School Certificate grade for maths did not give information about a student's measuring or trigonometry skills. But the NCEA mathematics result will.

Likewise if you are looking for someone for a front desk position, you need to know what a person's oral communication skills are like - again NCEA English will tell you this. School Certificate English never did.

NCEA enables teachers to start looking at the patterns of results, nationally and locally. We can now identify weak spots in students’ learning and make targeted changes in teaching and learning to fix those weak spots.

NCEA is also challenging our most gifted and talented students – the results are disproving the early “dumbing down” fears.

The lower numbers achieving Merit and Excellence at level 2 compared to level 1 show that our top students have been challenged by level 2 achievement standards.

And I have no doubt that the new scholarship examinations will be the most challenging examinations that New Zealand has ever seen, equivalent to stage one university.

We're going to recognise high standards of achievement with far more generous monetary rewards than have been available in the past. Top scholars will receive awards ranging from $1,500 to $15,000 per year for three years, giving a clear signal to our children that excellence is valued and rewarded.

Finally, I want to talk about my new role as Coordinating Minister, Race Relations.

As I've said, Labour believes everyone deserves a fair go - regardless of your race, where you live, what your gender is, whether you have disabilities or not, and whether you are rich or poor.

As a country we cannot afford to see any groups of New Zealanders languishing on the dole, suffering worse health than others, or lagging behind when it comes to educational achievement.

Let's be blunt - we have an aging population which will be costly. As a 49 year old I have had school mates complain that Brash expects us to pay for all those older than us but not collect anything ourselves when we retire.

Having huge sections of New Zealand non-skilled and out of work won't be any help at all, and in fact will be a drain on us as taxpayers even further.

It's clear there are perceptions and misunderstandings about how things are funded. But it’s nonsense and incredibly divisive and irresponsible to suggest our needs-based funding is a form of racial favouritism.

It is not at all.

So far no one is suggesting getting rid of the extra help people with disabilities receive, or getting rid of men's health clinics, ditching the extra help that people in rural communities receive, or scrapping the English language help that our immigrant communities receive.

It's rubbish to suggest that one size fits all. New Zealand is not a boring homogenous society, even if some people think we should all be squeezed into the same mould. To make sure that the whole country can move forward together, we sometimes have to do things in different ways.

That’s why we have different approaches for Maori, for Pacific Islanders, for immigrants who need English language and other help, for people with disabilities, for people in rural communities.

It's my job to get the facts out there so we can have a proper, informed and rational discussion.

I will be undertaking a review of policies to make doubly sure they are addressing need.

I want to make sure that if there are low income pakeha kids facing the same educational risks and with the same educational needs as low income Maori, that they do get the same level of government help.

I think most New Zealanders are quite rightly proud of our diversity and the rich and colourful melting pot of cultures and people that make up New Zealand.

We don't want our country split down the middle and in my new role I will be doing my best to make sure that does not happen.

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