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Mallard: Achieving quality education outcomes-

23 September 2004

Achieving quality education outcomes

Speech to PPTA Annual Conference, Brentwood Hotel, Kilbirnie, Wellington
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

I'm really pleased that for the second year in a row we are here in a season of relative calm compared to the turbulence of past years.

Relations between the PPTA and the government are strong, positive and healthy, and I'd like to start today by thanking the PPTA leadership for their constructive engagement before and during the recent collective agreement negotiations.

The ratification of the new three-year collective agreement is good news for teachers, parents, students, and for the whole country.

At last year’s conference I quoted from the grand old philosopher Bertrand Russell: “It’s co-existence or no existence”.

We are now very clearly in an era of co-existence and I thank the PPTA for the constructive role you have played in this. I understand a new billboard for the airport is on its way.

Maintaining this environment of good faith and constructive engagement will be vital over the next few years as we embark on the ambitious work programme agreed as part of the settlement.

The tension that often surrounds industrial negotiations doesn’t always lend itself to positive discussion around many of the critical issues facing the education sector.

That's why I'm pleased the government and the PPTA have been able to agree on the establishment of a range of working parties to look into various issues in greater depth.

The government is totally committed to raising education standards, a goal that I know you all share, and I'm looking forward to working together with you as we strive for the best possible education for all of our students.

The government accepts that education is one of our most important responsibilities. Providing quality lifelong learning opportunities is key to creating the confident and dynamic nation that we aspire to.

If we want a strong economy that can deliver more jobs, more opportunities, higher living standards and the resources that we need to deliver world-class public facilities, a quality education system is vital.

That means that we must be unrelenting in our pursuit of higher education standards, and higher levels of educational achievement across the board. All of our learners must be given the opportunity to excel.

At last year's conference I acknowledged and thanked you for the tremendous work that you have done implementing the NCEA. It's been a huge challenge, and I know that without your commitment, dedication and passion it just wouldn't have been possible.

This year, you have once again dug in deep to ensure the successful implementation of Level 3 – a tribute to you all.

The NCEA is a major improvement and it's here to stay.

Research is already showing that the NCEA is working. The Learning Curves research project by New Zealand Council for Education Research found that the NCEA is allowing schools to meet a wider range of student learning needs. Schools are creating multi-level programmes, courses and assessments. The research highlights the potential for innovative timetable structures leading to greater flexibility and smoother transitions into tertiary education and work, and greater integration of the curriculum.

However the Learning Curves research also found that there remains a traditional academic/vocational tension. As the NCEA evolves, I hope that this will begin to change and we will start to see more of a focus on providing all students with both academic and applied knowledge across a range of subject areas and in a range of contexts.

Other research shows that NCEA is helping to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to experience educational success.

The detail in NCEA results helps teachers in the classroom pinpoint students' strengths and weaknesses and create learning programmes that meet individual needs. As a result students are staying enthusiastic about their education, and they're staying on at school longer.

There are also some initial signs of improved achievement by Mâori and Pasifika students overall. Three per cent fewer students left school in 2003 with no qualifications, with improvement particularly evident for Mâori and Pasifika school leavers.

I am convinced that the NCEA critics - vocal as they may be - are in a minority. For example, there is no evidence to suggest that what went on at Cambridge High School - a recovery room for students with no teachers teaching them - is happening elsewhere.

In fact when Bill English tried to claim that another school, Hauraki Plains College, was involved in NCEA credit fraud, he was forced to back down when he failed to produce any evidence to vindicate his claims. NZQA checked out the situation at that school and confirmed that they had done everything right. Unfortunately they still haven't received an apology and Bill English is continuing to question the professionalism and credibility of all teachers with his ongoing baseless attacks.

When we began the rollout of the NCEA we made it clear that we'd review progress a year after the implementation was completed. Next year we will take another look at any issues or glitches or concerns that still need to be ironed out.

I'm sure that any review will confirm what I think many people are already realising; that the NCEA is actually raising standards of achievement.

It is also worth remembering that the NCEA is supported by the likes of Business New Zealand, by the Vice Chancellors Committee, the Secondary Principals Association, the Parent Teacher Association, and the Industry Training Federation because it provides richer detail on the skills and knowledge of individual students than was ever the case under School Cert.

This system is as suitable for students going to university to become medical specialists and lawyers as it is for those wishing to work in the construction or tourism areas. And why shouldn't it be?

Unlike some critics - including the opposition - I do have faith in the professional and ethical judgments of teachers and principals when it comes to the assessment of students.

Now that we nearly have the NCEA implementation out of the way, it is important that we start to shift the emphasis back to a much broader discussion about how we can foster successful education outcomes for all students.

Debate about the NCEA has underscored the vital importance of quality teaching in raising education standards. Over the last year I've talked a lot about research that has confirmed what I think many of us knew intuitively already - good teachers can overcome a huge range of barriers to educational success.

To me that reinforces the importance of high quality teacher professional development. Between individual schools and government, about $120 million is spent each year on professional development and advisory services, and the best evidence research is now informing that work.

I was very disappointed to read over the weekend that Bill English has announced that the National Party would do away with targeted funding for professional development and curriculum support.

This should be seen for what it is, a policy driven purely by ideology at the expense of quality outcomes. It would mark a return to the bulk-funding era of the 1990s where responsibility for paying for teacher professional development fell to individual school boards and very little happened as a result.

Under National, there would be no extra or targeted support for teachers and students. Schools wouldn't get any of the classroom resources or teaching materials that are provided now. There would be no laptops for teachers, there would be no programmes aimed at reducing truancy, no high speed internet access, no help for gifted children.

I'm not sure how Bill English thinks boards of trustees can provide the same level of curriculum support or professional development that is provided currently in nationally co-ordinated programmes that involve thousands of teachers, benefiting thousands of students around New Zealand.

Instead of going back over these old debates, I want the government to focus on what really matters – quality teaching and learning, and that means that we have to keep focusing on the best evidence research.

Te Kotahitanga, the Numeracy Project and the SEMO Project have all shown what works for teacher learning. This research shows the importance of teachers taking the trouble to understand students’ backgrounds—their family and cultural influences. Not to make excuses for what students may not be learning, but to identify characteristics they can capitalise on to help students learn better.

Professor Bishop’s Te Kotahitanga research has shown what a huge difference can be made for Mâori students when teachers reject the notion that culturally different students have deficits that prevent their achieving. By helping teachers confront their deficit thinking and understand and relate to students as Mâori, Professor Bishop has helped teachers make extraordinary differences to students’ outcomes.

Difference is not an excuse for low expectations.

Strong professional relationships are also essential for quality education. It's important for teachers to belong to and cultivate professional communities where they discuss and debate their teaching—where they share and debate their approaches to topics, the way they should respond to assessment data, and the particular needs and strengths of their students.

Ensuring that teacher professional development is of the highest standard must start right from the moment someone decides to enter the teaching profession. You will no doubt be aware of my concerns about the quality of initial teacher education. The Ministry of Education has recently put out a discussion document seeking responses to a draft action plan and the strategy for preparing teacher graduates to teach diverse learners effectively. I encourage you to respond. I know the PPTA is working with the Ministry and the Teachers Council on an initial teacher education research programme this year. Thank you for your valuable input. We need to establish a credible evidence base of current teacher education policy and practice so that we have a clear focus for government action.

The other area of initial secondary teacher education I’m concerned about is the supply of teachers in certain subjects. The Secondary Subject Training Allowance (SSTA) has certainly had an impact on some of these areas. English, computing and physical education numbers are way up, which is very pleasing.

Today I am pleased to announce a major boost in teaching scholarships. $18.8 million will be invested in generous new scholarships for those studying towards certain degrees.

In return for the scholarship, recipients will be expected to teach for the same number of years for which they received the scholarship, once they graduate. These generous scholarships could be worth $20,000 to some students, depending on the duration of their degree study.

The scholarships will meet the cost of study fees for a three-year degree and a year of teacher education and, for those studying full time, will also provide a maximum of $10,000 for other study costs.

Students entering degree programmes in the areas of te reo Mâori, maths, physics, chemistry and technology will be eligible for the scheme, as these are subjects where more qualified teachers are needed.

This represents a major investment in teaching, and demonstrates the government's commitment to ensuring that New Zealand schools are able to hire highly qualified teachers in any subject area.

Ensuring teacher supply is the first part of the equation. The second is increasing the number of positions available within our schools.

I'm also very pleased to announce today further implementation of the School Staffing Review Group's recommendations for secondary teaching.

New funding of $111.3 million over four years will provide secondary schools with an extra 460 full-time teacher equivalents from the beginning of 2005. These teachers are over and above any required to meet roll increases.

The extra teachers will help to improve the capacity of schools to deliver quality education, helping to ensure better teaching and as a result better learning outcomes for all students. It will relieve teacher workload and staffing pressures and allow flexibility in how new staffing is allocated.

The Government has already provided a total of about 812 extra full time teacher equivalents to secondary schools over the last four years, in addition to those required to meet roll growth.

School boards are free to use the extra staffing as they see fit to best meet the learning and pastoral needs of their students.

I have also made a commitment to the PPTA to fully implement the secondary staffing improvements by 2006, now that the Secondary Teachers’ Collective Agreement settlement has been ratified and I have a clear fix on salary costs.

These school staffing improvements are a great example of what we can achieve when we work cooperatively together.

Two opportunities to do more are the development of the Schooling Strategy and the Secondary Futures Project. You are probably all aware that we are now moving into the second stage of the development of a Schooling Strategy.

We have analysed feedback on the initial discussion document Making a Bigger Difference for all Students. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond.

The conversations we have had with the education sector and wider community have confirmed what the evidence has been telling us—supporting quality teaching practices and the engagement of families and whânau in learning are key to improving outcomes for all students.

The second stage of the development of the Strategy will identify key priority areas within these two themes. You will have the chance to let me know if you think we are on the right track, and what we need to be doing to make improvements.

I want to thank the PPTA for the contributions you have made to this process. I am determined that the discussions will be driven by the education sector and the wider community, and by evidence about what works to support learning for all students. The PPTA has the commitment, expertise, and networks that can help this to happen.

Another exciting initiative is Secondary Futures, which provides a forum to consider a long-term strategy for secondary education that is not constrained by today’s realities.

Education sector leaders inspired the creation of Secondary Futures. It is encouraging and inspiring that our teaching profession had the foresight to recognise that we needed to think about our future in a more planned and strategic way.

A great example of how the sector itself is leading this discussion was the Charting the Future conference earlier this year. I'd like to congratulate the PPTA for taking such a pro-active approach.

Secondary Futures has three key work streams:

The first is to gather information and trends about the world we will be living in, our environment, population, technological aids, the world of work and education, so that we can consider how learning might best be provided.

The second is to act as a catalyst for national conversations. It’s about bringing a range of voices into the discussion shaping education policy – ensuring we capture the values of young people, the business community, parents, Mâori, Pasifika and other ethnic groups.

The third is to celebrate the excellence and innovation that is already occurring, as schools work within local frameworks to help make more school leavers more successful.

This work will help us understand the trends and values that will shape our future, identify examples of the innovation that we want to spread across our education system, and share ideas across sectors. With this knowledge, we can start to build the best possible education system for our young people.

To conclude, we need to celebrate that we are doing well, but I want us to be able to celebrate soon that we have become a whole lot better.

We know how to achieve quality education outcomes—we need to get on and do it!

ENDS

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