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Bill English's Speech: Children – the top priority

Bill English's Speech: Children – the top priority

Address to the National Party Annual Conference, Duxton Hotel, Wellington.

You have seen the billboards. National’s top priority is children, students, kids.

Not the system, not the unions, not the salaries, not the peaceful life of keeping all the interest groups happy while schools drift into a warm fog of mediocrity.

And there is a choice – they decide how your child is educated, or you decide. They decide what values and principles your children learn, or you decide

If the education sector believes the incoming National Government will be a challenge to schools, they are right

We will be urgent, because a year is a long time in a young person’s life.

We will be focused, because it’s so easy to get distracted by fads.

We will demand honesty, because excuses are a betrayal of our children’s trust in us.

Our top priority will be numeracy and literacy. International evidence shows that the gap between our best achievers and our worst achievers is wider than anywhere in the developed world.

Even the political parties agree that about 25% of New Zealand students leave school without the skills needed to be competent citizens. That is about 12,000 young people each year.

What are we going to do about it? There is some good work going on in schools now, based on policy going back to Nick Smith and Lockwood Smith. We will build on it.

Overhead 1

Literacy and numeracy.

Set national standards.

Reading and numeracy vouchers.

Some schools are doing an excellent job of lifting the achievement and aspirations of pupils, including lowest-decile primary schools with the most challenging pupils. These schools succeed because they have clear goals for their students, they have simple systems and smart teachers, and they refuse to accept that their children can’t learn.

Every student who is competent deserves a school qualification respected by the community. As we speak, 130,000 young New Zealanders are doing NCEA. Labour is letting them down – their qualification is not respected.

Labour believes the problem is that parents, teachers and employers are too stupid to understand NCEA. When Labour is told the assessment is unfair for students, they say it’s alright because they expected variations. Their arrogance and their stubborn refusal to accept that there are significant problems with NCEA are the biggest problems with NCEA. It cannot now be fixed without changing the government.

Overhead 2.

Overhaul NCEA

Competitive ranking exam for scholarship.

Fair and consistent assessment.

Report failure.

Reduce bureaucracy so teachers can teach.

National will not go down the road of paying for more and more time for teachers out of the classroom so they can make NCEA work. Teachers want to teach students and we will simplify NCEA so they can do more of it, not less.

I am particularly concerned about the experienced teachers who tell me standards are eroding because of the confusion. Teachers know how to fix NCEA but no one is listening. We will work with them. You know it’s serious when the PPTA and the National Party agree.

We disagree with the PPTA and Labour over their attitude to parents. I’m old fashioned. National will be a government that thinks parents matter. Parents, not caregivers. Parents have the fundamental moral and legal responsibility for their children.

Parents have an inalienable right to make decisions about their child’s education. Labour is trying its hardest to take away that right, strongly supported by the teacher unions.

We don’t send our children to school to fill the government’s classrooms. Our children should not be trapped in one school, the victims of every passing fad.

There are few hopeless parents but there are many more who are helpless. They know their child’s education is going wrong but they can’t do anything about it. They need competent teachers for their children, every time. They need information – National will give it to them. They need choice.

Overhead 3.

Choice for parents

Allow more integrated schools.

Relax rigid zoning laws.

Restore subsidy to independent schools.

One type of school is particularly popular with parents – the single-sex school. NCEA results show why.

Overhead 4.

NCEA results boys v girls.

Overall, NCEA results show girls are doing better than boys in every way in just about every subject. So what can be done for boys?

Overhead 5

NCEA results co-ed v single-sex.

Girls in girls’ schools do better than girls in co-ed schools.

And boys do better in boys’ schools than boys in co-ed schools. I am worried about the drop-off in male role models for boys in schools and the gap between boys’ and girls’ achievement.

The state has not opened a single-sex school for 45 years.

National will establish new single-sex schools where parents want them. It’s a choice people want.

We could build new single-sex schools or convert existing schools where there is a community demand for it. So many boys in their early teens are losing touch with education, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get them back on track. If they need a different sort of school, let’s try it.

Parents and communities put their money where their mouth is when it comes to schools. Each year, schools raise about half a billion dollars from the community to run schools. The government puts in another billion.

National will also give schools control over more of the money spent on schools. In the last Budget the increase for 2700 schools was $20 million. The increase for the Ministry of education was $24 million. So the bureaucrats got more than all the schools in New Zealand put together. Those are Labour’s priorities, not National’s priorities.

It gets worse. In five years spending on policy advice has doubled, spending on administration of regulation has trebled. The Ministry controls hundreds of millions of dollars which is better controlled in schools. We back the schools. We will change the funding rules.

Overhead 6.


Redirect funds from bureaucracy to schools.

All schools bulk funded.

No one is in a better position to help a child’s learning than the teacher in the classroom and the principal of the school. Direct resourcing gives the professional teacher the capacity to decide how to get the best results.

We don’t guarantee more money. We do want better value for money.

The unions will oppose bulk funding. They are already running a scare campaign threatening divisiveness and protest. They call Labour’s system “salaries first” We stand for children first.

The new National government will have a mandate to implement bulk funding and the unions should get used to it. We will also have a mandate for more flexible pay. Current pay deals allow for some flexibility where a principal can pay more to a teacher who contributes more. National will negotiate for more flexibility.

In the end, though, it’s learning in the classroom that makes the difference. The curriculum needs to be stripped down to bare essentials and simplified.

How often have you heard people say “the answer is education” on everything from sex to budgeting?

Give the teachers a chance. There are only so many hours in a day. National will stop telling our schools to do more and more. We will tell them to do less, better.

Here are the essence statements so far of Labour’s curriculum review.

Overhead 6


Making meaning

Relating to others

Managing self

Participating and belonging

What is managing self ? The last one comes form the introduction to a Royal Commission into social welfare.

Why not tell people what we want

Learn to read and write.

Learn numeracy.

Learn problem solving.

Learn creativity.

Learn respect for others.

If the education sector believes the incoming National Government will be a challenge to schools, they are right.

We will treat education with urgency because a year is a long time in a young person’s life.

We will be focused because it is easy to get distracted by fads.

We will demand honesty because to make excuses it to betray the trust of our children.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join the next National Government on a national mission – to honour the promise of this nation to its young.


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