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Mallard Speech: Supporting early & primary ed

Trevor Mallard Speech: Supporting early childhood and primary education

Speech to NZEI annual conference, Wellington Town Hall
Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today.

I'd like to start by congratulating you on the settlement of the Primary Teachers’ Collective Agreement. I understand that Primary Principals’ Collective Agreement has yet to be settled and I am hopeful that this will occur very soon.

My overarching goal has not changed over the last five years. It was expressed, albeit in archaic language, by Peter Fraser, Minister of Education from 1935 to 1940:

"The government's objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers. So far is this from being a pious platitude that the full acceptance of this principle will involve the orientation of the whole education system"

Critical to student success is the quality and effectiveness of the teaching students receive. The three-year term of the collective agreement allows sufficient time to engage constructively on issues that will raise education standards for our students, by supporting and promoting teaching practice that works.

A significant initiative is the introduction for the first time, of classroom release time. This will help reduce workload pressures and give teachers time to focus on developing their teaching practice, and time for preparation, evaluation and assessment responsibilities. The school will receive funded staffing resource to enable teachers to be released and I will make announcements on that issue within a few weeks.

But what I find particularly exciting in this settlement is the long term joint work programme that will be put in place to focus on developing high quality professional development that continues throughout a teacher’s career and which could lead to advanced teaching qualifications. I’m looking forward to the results already.

This year’s Budget again clearly demonstrated the importance that the Labour-led government places on education – investing in the future of New Zealand and all our people. We believe in opportunity for everyone, and that means giving all New Zealanders the best start in life possible.

You will all be quite familiar with the huge investment we are putting into early childhood education in particular.

The latest in the Competent Children study by NZCER shows that the children at the age of 12 who have high quality early childhood education are, other things being equal, better readers and mathematicians than those whose early childhood education was of a lower standard. The research also finds that these gaps widen as the children get older.

Research like this and also significant support from those of you who are working at the coalface did influence our Budget announcement of 20 hours free early childhood education for three and four year olds in teacher-led community centres from 2007.

This move has been widely applauded but some of the usual critics - the Early Childhood Council, Act, the National party and other Business Roundtable acolytes got particularly active, suggesting that private centres would not benefit at all. That's despite the fact that they would get half the $307 million in funding - on average $140,000 each, compared to an average $50,000 for community centres.

The critic's claims especially struck me as being fairly hollow, when I started reading newspaper stories about the $6 million expansion plans of one major private player in the market.

Let's be clear about our government's goals - we want to provide accessible and affordable quality early childhood education to all young kiwi kids. The funding is aimed at driving up the quality of education - that is paying for the costs of hiring qualified staff - but it is also aimed at increasing participation rates in early childhood education. This will clearly increase the demand for services across the market.

Our commitment in this area is further demonstrated by some of the key initiatives we have underway which I want to update you on.

Quality teaching is at the heart of quality early childhood education, so it’s great to see the interest in improving qualification levels. We know that qualifications, among other things, contribute to better quality outcomes for children.

Quality practices in early childhood education services are also important.

The government is working to develop self-review guidelines, release exemplars for early childhood education services, and think about how professional development can be aligned to best support quality outcomes for children and their families.

I’m particularly excited about the exemplars, which provide an assessment model that can be used to examine children’s learning and teaching practice in ECE.

Funding has been set aside to support their implementation in early childhood education services.

Of course, we are well aware that to deliver on our goal of providing top quality early childhood education, we need the qualified teachers to do it.

The numbers of students in early childhood education training has been increasing substantially over the years. This year there are an estimated 4000 in training, compared to around 2600 in 1999.

That progress is good but we have been very aware that we need to do more in this area, in particular to tackle high demand areas such as Auckland and Maori and Pasifika language nests.

Our minimum requirements are very high - fifty per cent registered staff in all centres in a bit over two years time.

That's why I'm pleased to announce today a new scholarship scheme, aimed at getting more people to become teachers in areas of need - with early childhood education a major focus.

I know that financial barriers are preventing unqualified early childhood education teachers from enrolling in early childhood education training to get the diploma. I also know that we need to send a signal that we need early childhood teachers.

The scholarships I am announcing today will pay full fees and provide an allowance for other study costs of $10,000. Those eligible will be single people who opt into training whose income is below $20,000, people whose household income is $31,000 for two people, through to an income level of $51,000 for a six person family.

Yesterday I announced that people who can speak te reo Maori well will also be eligible for the scholarships so that they can enrol in programmes which lead to teaching in the medium of Maori.

As you know, there is a pressing demand for more teachers with these skills. Our move to 1:20 rates in immersion settings has added to that demand. I am amazed that there are some naive people even in this room who contemplate voting for a party that would go into coalition with a party that would revise those rates as well as abolish centrally funded professional development, computers for teachers and numeracy and literacy funding.

Under this new scheme, the amount of monetary award will be much higher, and far more people will benefit.

In early childhood education, we estimate that around 700 early childhood education students could be awarded scholarships each year, compared with 175 early childhood scholarships a year under the previous scheme.

As I've said, the scholarships will cover study fees, plus a $10,000 allowance to cover other costs if you study full time. Part time students will have their study fees covered. It could easily mean that students could get around $20,000 in total.

People who get the scholarships will be expected to teach in an early childhood service or school once they graduate in return for the scholarship.

And they will be bonded and have to teach for the same length of time that they received the scholarship.

The scholarships package for the early childhood education includes: relocation grants for qualified early childhood teachers who move from specific areas of New Zealand to Auckland, where demand is high; grants for qualified early childhood teachers not currently teaching who return to teaching in early childhood education; more study grants for qualified primary teachers to undertake early childhood teacher education. These grants will also be available for those already studying towards a primary teaching qualification who want to swap to an early childhood education teaching qualification funding to increase the number of early childhood education incentive grants available, particularly for Auckland early childhood education services.

There are also lots of exciting things going on in the primary sector - and many of you will be aware of the Schooling Strategy and will have responded to the initial discussion document. It won't come as a surprise that the feedback we've had suggests that supporting quality teaching practices and supporting the engagement of families and whanau in learning are high on the agenda. As a government our focus has turned in part to how we can effectively support teachers in their job because we realise how incredibly important your work is for the educational success of our young people. Research shows that quality teaching is the single most important influence within the school environment on how students perform and you as primary teachers are already working hard and taking this message on board. Professional development and research that informs that professional development underlines much of the work and investment that is going on now, and we are starting to see the results. Many respondents to the Schooling Strategy Discussion Document also highlighted the importance of good standards in literacy and numeracy. As a government we fully agree and we are focussing hard on this area.

That’s why we will be spending around $54 million on literacy and numeracy in primary and secondary schools this year alone.

Helping teachers improve their maths and literacy teaching through professional development is critical.

So far more than 15,000 teachers have been through numeracy projects and a literacy professional development project is now operating in 153 schools, targeting nearly 2000 teachers. Literacy Development Officers are also working alongside schools as well.

Teachers also need a strong evidence base about their students from which to work. The assessment tool asTTle, is really proving its worth in this area. It shows a students' progress against the rest of the class and against national standards, and pinpoints where students need more help.

Whenever I visit schools these days, I’m pleased to hear how well it is working, and helping to deliver great results for kids. Parents too are finally getting to know asTTle's value.

Last week I was at Port Chalmers School in Dunedin and it was fantastic to see children deliver presentations to their parents about how well they were doing, as part of the mid-year report back. Not only can they prove what they have done and show they are achieving, they can also tell parents what they need to learn next.

Finally, can I say that I valued the opportunity to work with members of your executive at the recent Schooling Strategy Workshop. As I think I said at the beginning of this process, constructive relationships between government and education professionals and communities are important as we move forward. Thank you all for the contribution you make – as individuals and through the NZEI. We are doing well – let’s get stuck in together to ensure we do even better.

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