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Trevor Mallard Speech: Focusing on the future

Trevor Mallard Speech: Focusing on the future

New Zealand School Trustees Annual Conference, Palmerston North

Thank you for the invitation to join you here today.

Welcome to all the new trustees here for your first conference. Congratulations on your successful election and thank you for the commitment you’ve made in becoming trustees.

I hear of many people who have stood for boards of trustees with the aim of changing the lives of young people but who have found that the experience has also made a positive difference in their own lives. I hope your time as trustees likewise brings you personal rewards, as well as benefits for the schools and students you are serving.

To returning trustees I also extend my thanks. Your experience, and the continuity you provide, are essential to our continued success.

The theme of your conference is "Safeguarding the Future". To me, safeguarding the future centres on the work that we all do - parents, teachers and boards of trustees included - to educate a generation of young people to be flexible, adaptable, creative, light on their feet, and driven to succeed.

That means having school trustees with the same qualities as those we want to see in our young people. A little bit Peter Jackson, a little bit Joe Rococoko – ambitious, able to cope with significant changes and challenges, able to live with enormous community expectation, and with a brilliant side step.

It's now 15 years since Tomorrow's Schools radically changed the way our schools are managed and governed. Back in 1989 I don’t think anyone would have imagined how our education system, and indeed the world around us would change over the next decade and a half.

Just think back to when those first boards of trustees took office in 1989. Back then the internet age was the sort of thing that belonged in sci-fi movies, cellphones were the size of small suitcases – and were the privilege of the wealthy. Most families would have made do with one car, one TV, and if they were really lucky, a video player.

Just as the world has changed in the last 15 years, so too will it change equally as radically over the next 15 years.

We need to build an education system that will equip our students with the skills they will need for a world we will barely recognise.

Over the last five years, the Labour-led government has been very focused on preparing our students and the education system for the challenges ahead.

Our focus hasn't just been on throwing more money at problem areas, or using throwaway catch phrases to win public support. Instead we've been looking at what works on the ground and how we can target any extra investment we make to get the best outcomes possible for all our students.

We are committed to raising student achievement and education standards across the board, and successive budgets under our government are targeting this area above all others.

A great example of how our education system is evolving is the introduction of the NCEA. The industrial age is over, and the information age has arrived. We just couldn't have stuck with a qualifications system that always assigned 50 per cent of students to failure, regardless of the fact many of these students had skills that should have been recognised. That system saw large numbers of students leave school with no formal qualifications. NCEA is now giving these students an incentive to stay on.

Once upon a time those students would have gone to jobs on the factory floor – jobs that just don't exist anymore.

Let's be realistic – in the next 10 to 15 years the baby boomers will start to retire. That means a greater superannuation bill, greater healthcare costs, and of course once out of the workforce, they'll be paying less tax.

We won't be able to afford to have large chunks of the population out of work or not achieving their employment potential. We need to address underachievement in our schools so that every student can go on to a successful and meaningful career in the workforce, and so that all New Zealanders can be assured of the security of our public services.

The NCEA recognises what students know and can do. It helps to identify weaknesses and it provides students, teachers and parents with a much wider range of flexible options and much more meaningful information on how students are doing. I believe NCEA is a qualifications system for the future – not one that is wedded to outdated ideologies of the past.

Internationally, our students do pretty well overall. Our fifteen year-olds are among the top in the OECD for literacy and numeracy, but there is still a big gap between our top and bottom achievers – a gap we just can't ignore.

Recent research has confirmed what many of us probably felt intuitively already – good teachers can and do make the biggest difference. Students' socio-economic status, home life, and geographical area does have an impact, but all of the associated barriers to learning can be overcome through high teacher expectations and quality teaching.

That's why I've focused during my time as Minister of Education on teacher professional development and support. This year alone we've invested close to $43 million in literacy initiatives and another $12 million in numeracy initiatives – a large proportion of which is going on teacher professional development.

I also know that more teachers will be required. I'm pleased to report that since 1999 we've increased teacher numbers by more than 2,000 over and above the extra teachers required for roll growth, and I hope we'll be in a position to increase that number even further soon.

Getting quality teachers in front of classrooms is one part of the resourcing equation and it overlaps with operational funding.

Since 1999 schools operational funding has increased by over 26 per cent. When adjusted for inflation and roll growth, that amounts to a real increase per pupil of just over 10 per cent. Anyone who argues that funding hasn't kept pace with inflation is simply mis-informed.

I've heard people talk about growing reliance on international student revenue, and this also needs to be put into perspective. In 1997, locally raised funds amounted to 13.9 per cent of secondary schools revenue. In 2003, that figure was 15.8 per cent, an increase of less than 2 per cent.

What has changed is the source of locally raised funding. In 1997 international student revenue contributed 9.3 per cent of local funding, and by 2003 it had increased to almost 29 per cent. Perhaps this is a sign of the times. Gala days, cake stalls, and selling chocolate bars have been replaced by revenue from international students.

The difference is of course that the profit from galas was all available for discretionary expenditure whereas the revenue from international students brings with it expensive expenditure obligations.

Earlier in the year I signalled that we would be looking at targeted decile funding. Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement, or TFEA, is intended to target the underachievement that some groups of students are experiencing, compared to their peers.

I've yet to see compelling evidence that this extra funding has been successfully applied for that purpose, and that's what the review is looking into.

Education funding is an ongoing and age-old issue. I don't expect - and I doubt whether you would ever expect - to hear schools say to any government, "thanks, we've got enough now". It's a balancing act for governments as well - there is only so much taxpayer funding and there are competing demands from other areas that have to be weighed up.

But we are helping to alleviate some financial pressure in education, through the spending we do on top of operational funding.

Acting collectively on behalf of all schools, the government is able to get much better value for money in some areas than schools could if they acted alone.

For example, we're investing over $27 million over the next three years to ensure that all schools have free access to Microsoft, Apple and anti-virus software licences, something that would cost a lot more if schools had to pay retail prices.

We've invested heavily in ICT initiatives such as laptops for teachers and managed internet services. In 2004 we'll spend over $46 million on ICT, and that doesn't include the tens of millions invested in Project Probe.

Additional resourcing of $22 million per year is being spent on resources for initiatives such as Learning Experiences outside the Classroom, the Reading and Maths Proposal Pool and Books in Homes.

If we totalled up all of these sorts of initiatives and other centrally funded resourcing, like the contestable funds, it would amount to around $346 million per year, on top of the $1 billion in operational funding per year. That's an extra 34 per cent in funding.

I think that this kind of targeted investment is vital to ensuring that every extra dollar that we spend on education gets the best value for our students.

It was with similar goals in mind that I embarked on the school network review process. Unfortunately, I think it would be fair to say I bit off more than I could chew, and I also failed to get sufficient public support to continue with the process.

In February I announced a five-year moratorium on further network reviews. There are three exceptions to the moratorium: where concerns about educational quality are raised; where two or more schools themselves ask to be reviewed; and where schools apply for a change in structure.

I want to signal to you very clearly that in the post network review era, I intend to be much less tolerant of poor performance amongst schools because I believe it would be irresponsible to do otherwise. Our top priority is to ensure every single child has the opportunity to access a quality education, and we must act when students are not getting what is their right.

The new planning and reporting requirements we have introduced will make school performance much more transparent within communities. These school reports will give parents critical information about their schools and I believe parents simply won't tolerate the sorts of problems they may have previously been unaware of. And nor should they.

Returning to the theme of the conference, if we really want to safeguard the future, we can't leave education to the teachers alone. All of us need to support what happens in the classroom. We need to set our sights on a system where no child fails, where everyone takes shared responsibility for every child succeeding.

As trustees, you have a pivotal role in influencing how your school works for its students. The learning environment is important, and I do strongly support one of your speakers on the need for schools to develop healthy eating policies that support healthy lifestyles and eating habits for children. The government is looking at ways to encourage this but STA can also play a big role here. Why not resolve to remove unhealthy food and drink from your schools, or remove vending machines that supply those products?

As far as classroom practice goes, trustees also need to constantly keep asking "how will this support the achievement of our students" and "how will we know this has made a difference".

That means you'll need to think about your own skills, and your own development, both as a whole board, and as individuals.

To conclude, I think we've made good progress on many important education issues in the last five years that I've been Minister of Education, but there is still a lot of work to do. We should celebrate our successes, and embrace the challenges ahead.

I would like to thank you for your contribution to the New Zealand education system. In particular, I'd like to thank Chris France for his efforts over the past few years. While we haven't always agreed, I'd like to acknowledge the leadership you have shown on issues like planning and reporting, and I wish you all the best.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. Enjoy the rest of the conference.

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