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Rural Teaching Principals Conf. - Mallard Speech

Hon Trevor Mallard
8 June 2005 Speech Notes

Rural Teaching Principals Conference

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for inviting me to join you today.

The theme of your conference Pathways for Change is timely.

All of us involved in education need to make sure our collective efforts are focused in the same direction – on the things most likely to make a bigger difference for all students – to bring about change so we can ultimately improve educational outcomes for every New Zealand student.

We know from evidence and this is supported by your feedback that effective teaching is the biggest within-school influence on student outcomes.

To get real improvements in student achievement we need to focus on what is happening within classrooms and particularly the interactions between teachers and their students.

As rural principals many of you spend a lot of your time in the classroom. But it is the challenges you face as principals to support effective teaching that I would particularly like to focus on today.

In New Zealand we have an education system and education profession that we can all be proud of.

Many of our students are achieving at the highest levels by international standards. The mean performance of New Zealand 15-year-olds was significantly higher than the OECD means for each of mathematics, reading, science and problem solving, according to the 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment.

International researchers and practitioners are keen to learn from New Zealand practice. Many come here to see first-hand what we are doing.

Last year I told this conference how the Labour-led Government had:
- abolished bulk funding
- introduced enrolment legislation to guarantee every child access to their local school,
- steadily increased funding
- and worked to ensure access to quality ICT resources in all schools.

And how we
- were investing heavily in getting the basics of good education right:
- literacy and numeracy,
- teacher professional development,
- quality learning resources,
- and the development of sound school leadership and governance.

All this is continuing, and I can give you an update:

We have now increased teacher numbers - over and above those needed to account for roll growth – by over 3,000 since 2001. That includes 2,700 to date, and an extra 420 announced in Budget '05.

The funding of teacher salaries has increased by 25% since 1999 – as a result of both increased numbers and substantial salary increases. Something that just did not - and would not - happen under bulk funding.

The operations grant has now increased by 15% in real per student terms since 1999 – that is, over and above the rate of inflation.

I can tell you that we have also begun a work stream to look at the adequacy of the ops grant – which will have sector involvement. It is hoped that this will not only reassess operational needs, but will also identify such areas as best practice, bulk purchase options and look at how we can bring some transparency to these issues for parents - and the government – without interfering with the discretionary nature of the ops grant.

We have a very good education system. Our students are among the top in the OECD in reading and maths; students are staying at school longer and leaving with higher levels of qualifications – despite historically low unemployment.

I want to make some comment about the policy choices that voters will have at this years election.

We are now getting a very clear idea of how the National Party would undo the things we have achieved.

National would return to bulk funding – without the financial bribes this time – there would be no need because it would be compulsory.

The destruction of a collaborative teaching environment aside, it is worth considering how rural schools would fare against large urban schools in a competitive teacher market under bulk funding.

National intend to abolish the right of kids to go to their local school. This is the quid pro quo for schools being able to "hand pick" any student from anywhere.

We think Labour has got it about right – parental choice means the absolute right to go to your local school, and other schools if they can accept you.

The strange idea of Trust Schools is nothing but a blatant attempt to privatise our state education system.

How do we know this? Because in May 2003 Dr Brash said in a speech: "For my part, I don't care who owns the schools" before going on to bemoan the concept of a state education system.

Our state schools are already governed by Boards representing the community.

And, according to the OECD, New Zealand schools have high levels of autonomy in comparison with schools in many other OECD countries, including over budget management, assessment policies, textbook selection, course content and course options.

So what is being advocated by National that is different. I would suggest that the differences are:
- A transfer of public assets into private hands
- Not having to teach the curriculum
- Self-perpetuating governance structures
- The ability to annex other schools!

But I am sure the key difference would be their ability to charge "fees" – to Dr Brash that would be the most "efficient" means of controlling demand for these so-called "elite" schools.

Labour is not about privilege – it is about fairness and inclusion – and access to quality education for ALL not just SOME.

Vouchers - Based on the recent statements of their leader, the National party's real agenda seems to be about using literacy – where New Zealand is performing quite well - as an excuse to rob state schools of funding so their business mates can set up private 'schools' run by unqualified teachers

Hence Dr Brash's recent endorsement of an illegal "school" operating in South Auckland.

Instead of improving quality National would remove all the safeguards to quality teaching so that the world would be divided between elite providers and 'backstreet" providers.

National Testing – This has gone disastrously elsewhere, and there isn't even agreement between Brash and English on what form this might take.

Finally, their proposals would take effect in an environment of sharply reduced spending on public services. You figure!

As a principal you have a critical role in supporting effective teaching. And government has a crucial role in supporting you in this work.

Through the Directions for Schooling Strategy consultation process you asked that more emphasis be given to the role of the principal.

We have listened to this feedback and the final schooling strategy which is due for release later this year will reflect this.

I want to acknowledge everyone who was involved in the development of the strategy. Thanks especially to those of you who contributed to the schooling strategy summits held in February.

The strategy will provide us with a high level plan and a collective focus for schools over the next five years.

Through the strategy we will be able to agree on key priorities and actions and work together on the things that make the greatest difference in student achievement.

A student’s success requires a consistent and strategic focus and a willingness on all our parts to keep challenging our own thinking and practice.

This approach is summed up in the New Zealand Education Institute’s submission on the schooling strategy:

“When the principal is engaged in serious and visible professional learning important messages are being given to teachers about commitment to ongoing learning. Their presence, their talk and their actions play a major role in building a learning culture.”

Today a growing wealth of information about student achievement is available – good information as to how well different students collectively and individually are achieving is evident at a system, school, and classroom level.

Effective professional learning communities give both teachers and principals the opportunity to work in a supported environment to develop evidence-based practices that contribute to improved student outcomes.

As rural teaching principals we know you have many and different challenges to those of principals in towns and cities; finding opportunities to be involved in collective learning is probably one of them.

There are known pressure points for principals and a particular pressure for you can be professional isolation.

When principals first take on the job, as part of the 18-month programme to support these first-time principals each receives a mentor and becomes a member of a learning group.

Some 97 per cent of new principals now access this support.

The Extending High Standards in Schools is an exciting initiative I announced last year. Highly effective schools will receive $28.5 million over four years to continue and develop their high standard work and share their good practice with colleagues across the sector.

Getting better at identifying and sharing good practice will be a key part of building our knowledge about how to support the best outcomes for students.

In this year’s Budget we also provided $8.2 million, for 20 additional information communications technologies (ICT) professional development clusters and $7.4 million has gone towards developing an online version of asTTle.

We recognise there are particular ICT challenges for rural schools. The Community Technicians project (COMTEC) is an initiative aimed at helping rural, remote and low decile school clusters identify and upskill local people with basic ICT experience so they can provide technical support to schools.

Late last year I announced that the Targeted Funding for Isolation Rates would be increased by 12.5 per cent above the annual adjustment increase of 2.75 per cent.

This increase should enable rural schools to better meet the costs associated with operating in an isolated environment and provide more funding for learning resources.

New Zealand is now the third highest spender on state schooling in the OECD.

The challenge for all of us is to ensure we remain open and flexible to change so every student is supported and encouraged to be the best they can be.


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