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Trevor Mallard Speech: Raising student achievement

Trevor Mallard Speech: Raising student achievement

Speech to Rural and Teaching Principals Conference, Queenstown

Thank you for inviting me to speak to your conference.

I imagine that you are pretty keen to question me about some of the decisions I’ve made recently that impact on rural and small schools.

Before we do this, I would like to talk about some of my main priorities in the education portfolio, highlight some of the progress we've been making, and some of the risks we face.

We've got a good education system, a dedicated teaching profession and committed professional education leaders.

Our students on average do well, but we can and must do better. We can't settle for a good education system when a great education system is within our grasp.

It's been four years since I became Minister of Education.

When we became the government in 1999 we had a very clear manifesto outlining what we wanted to do in education, and we've kept faith with the electorate by implementing our promises.

The Labour-led government has abolished bulk funding, introduced enrolment legislation to guarantee every child access to their local school, steadily increased funding, including a 10.1% real increase in overall operations grant funding, and worked to ensure access to quality ICT resources in all schools.

We're investing heavily in getting the basics of good education right: literacy and numeracy, teacher professional development, quality learning resources, and the development of sound school leadership and governance.

We've introduced the asTTle assessment tool which is proving incredibly valuable in helping teachers and parents assess how students are performing in areas like literacy and numeracy and target their teaching to address any shortcomings or weaknesses.

We've successfully implemented the NCEA and introduced a generous new system of awards for our top students.

Our approach to education is driven by what works, not by ideology.

Sometimes I think that because we haven't adopted a bumper sticker approach to education that our message hasn't been getting through, and I want to change that.

Let me be crystal clear. The number one education priority for this government is ensuring that every child succeeds.

Every child must leave school able to read and write. Every child must be supported to achieve to their full potential.

That's what's driving our approach to education, and that's where I want our attention to be focused.

During the past decade we've had debates across a wide range of issues, including bulk funding, tomorrow's schools, curriculum reform, and enrolment schemes to name just a few.

The last few months have focused far too much on reviews – capturing the time, attention and efforts of government, schools and communities.

These have been really important debates, but they've distracted us from the most important debate of all – how do we raise the quality of teaching and learning so that every child succeeds to their full potential?

Over the next few months as the political environment continues to heat up, I fully expect that some of those debates will re-emerge.

Don Brash and the National Party have already signalled that they would like to devolve employment bargaining to school boards of trustees - a vital step along the way towards their new policy of a voucher system for education.

I urge you to be very wary of political parties that seek to abdicate state responsibility by dressing up slash and burn policies under the guise of parental choice.

Real parental choice involves making sure that every school is a good school, that every teacher is a good teacher, and that every child has access to the highest possible standard of education.

I've heard suggestions that we need a national testing regime for primary school kids, but all of the research shows us that flexible tools like the asTTle assessment tool I have already mentioned are far more valuable to the learning process than making primary school kids sit exams.

I'm determined that the education system shouldn't get caught up in political mud-slinging. All that these sorts of debates will do is distract us from what really matters most – student learning.

We need to concentrate on the single most important influence on student achievement in our schools - effective teaching.

The Schooling Strategy Discussion Document brings together some of the data about how well students currently do, some of the work already happening, and some ideas about how we can move forward.

Collectively we need to build a better understanding of what works and why, and the input of education leaders like yourselves will be crucial in doing this.

I know that more resources will be required, but I want to ensure that every extra dollar that we invest in the education system goes towards improving student achievement.

As some of you are teaching principals, and all of you have an interest in teacher quality, I would like to highlight the Best Evidence research recently completed by the Ministry that focus on how effective teaching makes a difference for student outcomes.

These “best evidence” research reports draw together international and New Zealand research and evaluation evidence about how to improve learning.

They focus on what has been shown to work, rather than on what is fashionable, feels good, or sounds good in theory.

I know what a critical difference good teaching makes, and I know that the people who know the kids in the classroom best are the teachers. They are the best people to make judgments about what support they need to succeed.

Before taking questions I would like to highlight two initiatives working directly with small schools like yours.

Firstly, I imagine you will be aware of the School Staffing Review Group.

I am pleased that over the past four years their recommendations have increased school staffing by about 2,100 teacher equivalents.

The Review Group recognised the particular staffing needs of schools like yours by providing small schools with a proportionately greater amount of these extra staffing allocations.

The smallest schools - those with a roll of 28 or less – have received the equivalent of a day's release time for a teaching principal. That is an increase of 200% in release time.

Those of you with slightly bigger rolls have received an extra day and a half in base management time and schools with more than 60 students have received two days teacher equivalents.

I am committed to completing this initiative by 2006 if possible, and by 2007 at the latest, so you will continue to see improvements being made.

The second initiative I would like to discuss, is the School Administration Support Cluster (SASC) Programme. It helps schools with rolls less than 160, mainly in isolated rural areas, work together to improve their administrative efficiency, freeing up time to enable teaching principals to focus on professional leadership and teaching, and for boards to focus on governance.

As principals of small schools are usually teachers as well, I imagine that it is often difficult for you to provide professional leadership for the school and also do most of the administrative work.

The programme supports initiatives put forward by clusters of small schools, usually three to eight in each cluster.

These initiatives help to reduce the principals’ and boards’ workload through, for example, common management systems for areas like property, ICT and finance, shared school policies and the appointment of cluster administration officers.

Principals of the 600 schools that have taken part in the programme have reported real benefits for their schools.

Thank you again for the opportunity to join you here today. And thank you for your continuing efforts to deliver quality education for your students. I wish you all the best for the rest of the conference and the year ahead.

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