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Delivering strong high quality education

12 November 2004

Delivering strong high quality education

Hon Trevor Mallard - Speech to Engaging Active Learning Communities conference, Westpac Trust Stadium, Wellington

Good morning everyone. I am delighted to be with you today to take part in this significant forum. Thank you all for giving your valuable time. I want to acknowledge your hard work and your commitment to education.

For those of you involved in reviews, it has been a stressful time for you as individuals and for your schools and communities. I do recognise this and thank you on behalf of the students who are currently in your schools and those who will be there in the future.

It's great to hear about the collaboration and innovation that is going on between schools as the reviews are implemented and people start thinking about how to deliver the best results for their local kids. A fantastic example of this is the development of a new Super Centre for Technology Provision in Timaru.

This is a most exciting and innovative facility resulting from the combined Timaru area schools' decision to have a specialist technology centre in their region. The energy and commitment of the boards and professionals as they set about planning this centre is a huge credit to them all - and if there's anyone here that has been involved in this project, congratulations.

I also want to recognise the tremendous work by those of you involved in establishing new schools in areas of high growth and network expansion.

The next two days provide a valuable opportunity to focus on our most important objective – raising the standard of education our children receive.

There can be no question, ensuring that every child leaves school with the basic skills they need to achieve to their full potential is vital. It is the single greatest focus of our government in education, and I know that it is your focus too.

We've got a good education system in New Zealand. It's easy to focus on the negative and highlight areas where we can do better, but we shouldn't over look the fact that we're doing pretty well overall. Having said that, we can't settle for good when a great education system is within our grasp.

If we're going to get serious about raising education standards and ensuring that every child succeeds, we also need to stay focused on the big picture. We need to concentrate our time and energy on what has been proven to work, not what looks or sounds good on a bumper sticker.

I would like to take this opportunity to put on record our government's firm commitment to a high quality public education system. We are committed to working in partnership with parents, teachers and communities to ensure that a high quality, publicly owned and operated school system is maintained.

This conference is a great way to galvanise the momentum we are already seeing in so many regions and to look for further opportunities. We need to set our sights on a system where everyone takes shared responsibility for every child succeeding.

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.

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 Russell 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.

As principals and board chairs you have a pivotal role in influencing how your school works for its students. The questions you must continually ask are: "how will this support the achievement of our students" and "how will we know this has made a difference".

I want schools to champion excellence and work collaboratively with others to create strong and successful learning environments.

That means we will all need to think about how we define a successful school leaver. We don't know what the world will look like when today's students step out into it. What we do know is that change is inevitable, and we must embrace it.

If there is one thing that will be constant in the lives of all future school leavers, change will be it. If they are to cope in such an ever-changing environment, the most important thing that the education system can do is equip them with the skills to constantly adapt and continue to learn throughout their lives.

In the information age, the three Rs will be just as essential, but so too will the skills of adaptability. A successful school leaver will need to have acquired considerable and varied knowledge, as well as the skills to apply that knowledge.

They will need to be able to problem solve and will need to have information management and creative skills.

The personal attributes they acquire and develop will be just as important. They will need strong values, confidence in their culture, and skills to interact with people from other cultures and backgrounds.

In short, we need to equip school leavers with the types of skills and knowledge that will allow them to be self-reliant in our ever-changing world.

We must recognise that the learning needs of each individual student are diverse. One of the major challenges we will face in the modern curriculum is getting past the notion that all students need to learn the same thing. Every student is different, and they will all follow different paths.

One size does not fit all in the education system, and we need to focus our attention squarely on ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, succeeds in education.

In the future, the strength of our education system will lie in its ability to succeed with diverse students. Diversity will be viewed not only in terms of different cultures and ethnicity but also in terms of special needs, giftedness, learning styles and learning interests and abilities.

Good schools and good teachers and good schools recognise this diversity. Our government wants to recognise and reward schools that are consistently making these improvements.

Two weeks ago I launched a new policy designed to reward schools that are successfully lifting the education standards of their students, and sharing their experiences with other schools. From 2005 government will invest an extra $5.3 million annually to promote excellence in schools and provide them with an incentive to continually lift their game.

Schools, across all deciles, that are willing to commit themselves to achieving real improvements in students' education standards will get this support. They will also need to show how these improvements will be shared with other schools. Through this initiative, Extending High Standards in Schools, an estimated 270 schools will benefit over four years, with at least a 10 percent overall increase to their existing operational funding.

I have also just announced the next step in the development of the New Zealand Schooling Strategy

This five-year plan of action creates the basis for teachers, government and communities to work more effectively together to make the greatest difference for all our students.

Making a Bigger Difference for all Students: Directions for a Schooling Strategy gives us the opportunity to build agreement over the priorities we need to set for the next five years.

Copies of this strategy have just been sent to all schools. I am particularly interested to hear your views and would like this feedback by the end of March next year.

In February when I announced a five-year moratorium on further network reviews I said we wanted to strengthen our focus on quality teaching and learning for all students and to ensure the reviews were effectively implemented.

Good progress has been made. It's great to be able to visit schools again without them thinking I'm coming to swing an axe. It's also been great to see the way that communities affected by reviews have pulled together to achieve positive outcomes for their students.

I have asked the Ministry of Education to develop a comprehensive research project around network reviews. While this research project is still in the early stages I see it as a vital tool to learn about what has been achieved through the review process.

We need to consider what has worked well and what hasn’t. I want to ensure future policies best focus on the learning outcomes of our students and meet their needs and those of their communities.

We need to continually look at what works on the ground. How can we target any extra investment we make to get the best outcomes possible for all our students?

We are all committed to raising student achievement and education standards across the board - your role is vital.

Thank you for taking the time to be here, and thank you once again for all of the time, commitment and energy that you have invested in this process. Our students will be the benefactors.


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