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Helen Clark - Address at NZEI Conference

Monday 20 September 2004

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Address at
NZEI Conference

Wellington Town Hall

5.00 pm

Monday 20 September 2004

Many thanks for the invitation to address your annual conference today.

I have come today to emphasise the priority of education in our government’s programme; to highlight some particular achievements; and to confirm the importance the government places on a constructive relationship with the NZEI.

Let me begin by talking about the relationship.

Times have changed since 1999. Our predecessors tended to view education unions as self interested providers, rather than as serious professional organisations.

Yet in my experience, education unions have long made a serious contribution to education policy and to public debate about it.

You also have the role of advocating for your members, and that is as it should be.

NZEI worked with the CTU, the PSA, and the government on a new retirement savings scheme for the state sector which I was pleased to announce last November. As a result your members in the state school sector, including support staff, and registered teachers employed by free kindergarten associations, now have access to an employer subsidised superannuation scheme again.

It was good to hear that settlement was reached on the Primary Teachers’ Collective Agreement last week.

I understand that this is the first time classroom release time has been negotiated for primary teachers, and also that the agreement focuses on teachers’ professional development.

I do appreciate that to maintain a high level of entry into teaching as a profession, teachers need to be properly remunerated and to feel valued. Pay parity has seen significant salary movement for primary teaching over recent years. Now with this settlement I trust the profession will be able to look forward with confidence. I wish you well for the ratification process.

Prior to the 1999 general election, I stressed to teacher organisations that our new Labour-led government would dump the ideologically driven policies of the 1990s and focus on evidence based policies of what would work for children.

There was quite a lot of market ideology to scrap in education, and its advocates continued to complain for some time.

Bulk funding was scrapped quickly, putting that divisive era firmly behind us.

We adhere to the principle that children have a right to attend their local school, and indeed have the first call on the places in it.

We aim to see that every state and integrated school is a quality school, regardless of decile. We don’t support the voucher approach which would encourage children to be bussed far and wide for some supposed advantage.

We scrapped the Employment Contracts Act which inhibited collective bargaining and brought in new law which encouraged it.

In education that means supporting the nationwide collective agreements which are so important in determining the career structure for teachers. Performance pay is not something we favour, as we see it as destructive of the collegial nature of a successful school.

We are strong believers in the public education system, as are most New Zealanders. And the system has received significant extra funding over the past five Budgets.

- Funding for schools is up by twenty per cent, to $4.1 billion.
- Total education spending is up by over 39 per cent.

An OECD survey released today shows that New Zealand ranks eleventh out of its thirty member countries in education spending. The survey is based on 2001 figures. That year, New Zealand spent 5.5 per cent of GDP on education, compared to the OECD mean of 5.0 per cent.

The increases in New Zealand over the past five years have been especially large in early childhood education. The new strategy adopted in recent years promotes participation and quality.

While participation rates have been strong overall, they are uneven across sectors of the community, and we are keen, as you are, to remove barriers to participation.

The new teacher registration requirements are critical to raising quality across the board in early childhood.

All this costs : in Budget 2004 another $307 million over four years was announced for early childhood education. That means that funding in this area will have increased by 79 per cent between 1999 and 2008.

To make participation more affordable, we have budgeted from 2007 to have all three and four year olds eligible for twenty hours free education at teacher-led, community-based early childhood services.

Trevor Mallard has a very strong personal commitment to boosting early childhood education, and that has resulted in these numerous and positive changes.

In primary and intermediate education, the government has put enormous emphasis on literacy and numeracy as foundations of knowledge.

Our government wants New Zealanders to be ranked among the highest in the world for literacy levels.

We see raising literacy, along with numeracy, as top education priorities. Literacy and numeracy skills are foundation skills for life. For me, education is about development of the whole person and equipping each one of us with the skills we need to navigate our way through an ever more complex world.

We know that the majority of New Zealand students do achieve well in reading and writing.

An OECD report in 2002 showed that New Zealand’s best fifteen year olds are among the top internationally, and that New Zealand’s fifteen year olds rank third out of the 32 OECD countries for literacy. But what continues to concern us is the fourteen per cent of students who perform well below acceptable levels.

The OECD results were paralleled by an IEA study of ten year olds, where seventeen per cent of our ten year olds performed above the international top ten per cent benchmark, but sixteen per cent scored in the lowest quartile.

Our government’s objective is to lift the achievement levels of the lowest achievers, as well as continuing to lift achievement over all. We will continue to invest as much as we can in literacy to meet these goals.

This year $43 million is being spent specifically on promoting literacy in primary and secondary schools.

That is around eleven million dollars more than was allocated in 1998/99. These figures exclude any funding already available through baselines.

Much of the money has been targeted at early intervention programmes like Reading Recovery, at the specialist support provided by the Resource Teachers of Literacy, and at teacher professional development and resources.

Every aspect of the literacy strategy has been informed by current research, and we are confident that the investment being made will get good results.

The focus this year is largely on the classroom teacher. Recent research has told us that within schools it is the effective classroom teacher who can make the biggest difference to student achievement.

We know that teachers need to be supported to make effective decisions about their teaching practice, to provide targeted instruction, and to monitor the effects through student achievement data.

A range of assessment tools has been developed to enable teachers to do that. We are already seeing promising results from those schools where teachers have undertaken training in the assessment tools for teaching and learning, and are using it to identify students’ literacy and numeracy progress.

I should say that we regard use of the assessment tools for teaching and learning as a vastly superior approach to the national testing advocated by right wing parties.

Research is also confirming that New Zealand children’s maths skills are improving as a result of the Numeracy Development Projects operating in schools from Years 1 to 10.

There have been particular improvements in addition, subtraction, and multiplication skills, and there is evidence that students in the numeracy projects are learning better than those not yet involved.

Funding has been approved for the next three years so that the majority of schools not involved to date can participate.

Part of the increasing investment in the compulsory education sector has gone into increasing teacher numbers.

This year there will be an extra 774 teaching positions in schools over and above what is required for roll growth. That brings to 2087 the numbers of new teaching positions created since 2001.

Two other areas of investment are especially worth mentioning.

The first is the commitment the government has made to rolling out high speed internet services to all our schools. The target set is for Project Probe to reach all schools by the end of this year.

There have also been the programmes to provide all principals with laptops and access to online development tools. The laptop programme is being progressively extended to all teachers. This year 7,000 primary teachers in Years 4 – 6 became eligible for the scheme, on top of the 17,000 principals and intermediate and secondary teachers who had already received laptops.

We see information and communications technologies as essential tools in education, as they are across all areas of the society and the economy.

The second is the longer term view taken towards school property funding. I attend many openings of new facilities in schools. Invariably schools have welcomed the ability to plan over five years how to spend their entitlements to best effect.

Despite all the investments we have been making, clearly there is still a need to do more. I note that operations grants have been in the news in the past week, and I don’t imagine that will be the last we hear of that issue.

Parents, teachers, children, and the government all have rising expectations of what we can achieve and provide in education, and it will always be a challenge to meet those expectations, even with the best will in the world which I believe our government has.

I understand that entitlement operational funding has increased by 29 per cent under our government. After allowing for inflation and for roll growth that would equate to a real increase of 10.2 per cent per student.

I want to touch briefly on two issues which have caused aggravation over the past eighteen months or so.

The first was the programme of school network reviews on which the Minister and Ministry of Education had embarked. In February a moratorium was placed on those reviews, and that moratorium will stand.

While I believe the reviews were well intentioned in seeking to ensure school viability, the approach became counterproductive. Better ways need to be found of ensuring viable schools for the future.

The second issue is the apprehension felt by intermediate schools about their future, given that a number have been eliminated in recent school network reorganisations.

Those were one-off decisions. There is no government agenda to eliminate intermediates as a matter of principle, and nor has such an approach been discussed to the best of my knowledge.

In the course of my work I visit many primary and intermediate schools and early childhood education centres.

Seeing the quality of education we have, and the enthusiasm of our teachers for what they do, makes me proud to be a New Zealander.

I come today to affirm the value of what teachers do, and to thank the NZEI and its members for their contribution to education.

I hope we will be able to continue to work together in the interests of young New Zealanders and the future of our country.


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