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National confused and contradictory in education

Thu, 12 Aug 2004

National confused and contradictory in education

Hon Trevor Mallard: Speech to the Greater Wellington Secondary Principals' Association meeting, Wellington


Thank you for the invitation to join you all here today.

There are several issues I want to touch base on relating to work that is going on in secondary education.

You will probably be aware by now that we are concentrating in particular on lifting the quality of teaching - that's because the evidence is pretty clear that quality teaching is the biggest within-school influence on student learning.

It's an area that I am particularly enthusiastic about and it lies at the heart of our government's commitment and determination to lift education standards for all our students, regardless of their background, regardless of how rich or poor their families are, and regardless of their ethnicity.

About $100 million is spent each year on centrally contracted professional development and advisory services, and the best evidence research series is now informing that work. The best evidence research gives teachers important information about what actually works for students in the classroom. Te Kotahitanga, the Numeracy Project and the SEMO (Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara) Project have also all shown what we can do to help teachers in their work.

This research shows how important it is for teachers to understand students' backgrounds: their family and cultural influences, and not to make excuses for what students may not be learning. It shows that it's important for teachers to identify what influences they can capitalise on to help students learn better.

This 'relationship of care' turns out to be most critical when the teacher does not share the same culture as the students.

The Kotahitanga research by Professor Russell Bishop showed what a huge difference can be made for Maori students when teachers accept that Maori students can and will achieve. By helping teachers to develop their ability to understand and relate to students as Maori, and plan programmes accordingly, Professor Bishop has helped teachers make extraordinary differences to students' achievement.

The word's also spreading overseas - educators from British Columbia have been in New Zealand recently to check out the programme. They're keen to adapt it for use back home for their underachieving students and have described it as the best they've seen worldwide.

Professional development like this is crucial and it's important for teachers to belong to professional communities where they can share best teaching practice and discuss the best ways of lifting student achievement.

We also intend to support schools with further increases in teacher numbers that I hope will continue to help ease workload and staffing pressures, giving teachers more time to get on with teaching. Since 1999 we've increased teacher numbers by more than 2,000 over and above the extra teachers required for roll growth, and I'm confident we'll be in a position to increase that number even further soon.

I am also pleased to be able to announce today that from next year schools will be able to carry over their under-used or over-used staffing entitlements for the year until 31 March of the following year.

The change to the "banking staff" policy is aimed at ensuring schools can optimise individual staffing entitlements by giving you a longer timeframe before your entitlement expires.

I want to also talk about two issues that have been in the news recently - NCEA and zoning.

Overall NCEA is working very well and that's a tribute to everyone involved in its implementation.

It is inevitable that in a new system problems may occur, as we saw with the issues around exam timetable clashes. But we will endeavour to address glitches like this as soon as possible.

The recent controversy surrounding Cambridge High School has been disappointing but you can be absolutely assured that if any of the government agency reports into the school show problems that need addressing, then they will most certainly be addressed.

In terms of zoning, there has been what I can only describe as bizarre but typically messy and confused positioning from the National party.

Don Brash wants to scrap zoning totally but he's at complete odds with his education spokesman who has publicly contradicted him and recognised the need for zones in areas of overcrowding. They show no signs of being able to get their story straight. Interestingly, it was National that brought back zoning in 1998 after realising the alternative did not work.

Removing zoning did not result in parents or student choosing schools but rather in schools choosing students.

Zoning has been debated since at least 1924, the year that an amendment to the Education Act gave education boards the power to restrict enrolments in a public school.

The basic premise of our enrolment rules is that parents are free to choose a school for their child and that schools have to accept all enrolments.

The only exception is when a school becomes overcrowded, in which case a school has to arrange an enrolment scheme to ensure local students within that specified home zone get a guaranteed right of access.

Any extra spaces are then balloted with preferential entry dependent on factors such as special needs of students and whether the student has siblings that are current or former students.

Around 17 per cent of all state schools have an enrolment scheme.

One answer to overcrowding is to put extra accommodation into overcrowded schools, but some of our schools are now very large by world standards, and they and I are unhappy about the prospect of seeing any more sports fields taken over by classrooms.

I, and ministers before me, have not provided extra accommodation at overcrowded schools when surrounding schools have extra capacity. Capital costs for new secondary schools are $20,000 per child - and that is money that otherwise would be spent on classroom resources and actually teaching kids.

I believe that we now have a transparent and stable system that gives students from all sections of society a similar opportunity when overcrowding is a problem.

Finally I want to conclude by updating you on two important strands of work that are taking place, related to the future look of the school system.

Some of you will have commented on the Discussion Document: Making a Bigger Difference for All Students that was published earlier this year. It was the first stage in developing a Schooling Strategy for New Zealand, which I want to have in place early next year.

I want to make sure that we have some clear priorities to work towards over the next five years in schooling so we have a clearer picture of where we are heading and how we plan to get there.

This is a chance for you and other stakeholders to have a say about where the priorities should be.

I expect quality teaching and how to support quality teaching to be high on the agenda.

About 90 per cent of respondents in the first round of feedback also thought this should be the case.

We will have another document ready for publication soon. It will focus on some of the specific issues drawn from the first round of feedback and the research evidence. Please look out for it and let me know how you think the Schooling Strategy is developing.

The second piece of work is the Secondary Futures taskforce which is looking at a much longer-term vision for secondary education.

The taskforce has two key functions. The first is to bring more voices into the debate about education policy than we've seen traditionally - the taskforce wants to hear from students, parents, employers, Maori and ethnic communities.

The second function is to collect relevant information about what works well for students and leads to better learning, and about what New Zealand will look like and need in 20 years' time, so that this information can be shared to help us get to the future faster.

One project Secondary Futures is setting up is bringing together principals from newly established schools together so that they can be a resource for each other. By sharing stories, we can avoid reinventing the wheel, and spark more innovation. Other schools can benefit by seeing how new thinking might fit with what they are doing.

In the coming months Secondary Futures will be visiting schools around the country to identify the innovation and excellence that is occurring and take those ideas to other audiences.

They will also be running workshops to help people think about what the future might be like - what we want the role of teachers to be and how schools are organised and resourced. Over time these ideas can be fed into decision making processes at both local and national level so that we can make changes which will mean more school leavers will be more successful in the future.

I encourage you all to get involved in this important process.

Thank you again for the invitation to join you here today, and all the best for the rest of your conference.


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