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Mallard Speech: NZ School Trustees Association

Trevor Mallard Speech Notes

Annual Conference of the New Zealand School Trustees Association


Good morning everyone. Thank you for inviting me to attend your conference and to speak with you today.

I want to focus my comments on the theme of this year’s conference – Celebration of Governance – Where all Kids Achieve.

Firstly, let me say how strongly I endorse this theme.

The opportunity to participate in the governance of our schools is something that should be celebrated.

I note that in a rather wonky piece of research recently presented by the right wing lobby group the Maxim Institute they quoted the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA, which stated: "The tendency for countries with greater degrees of school autonomy to show higher average levels of student performance may suggest that there is a case for pursuing school autonomy as one route to school improvement" (end quote).

It was rather unfortunate then, that Maxim failed to mention that this very PISA survey reported that New Zealand schools have high levels of autonomy, in many cases among the highest measured in the 28 OECD countries taking part. Aspects of autonomy included: budget management within a school, establishing student assessment policies, choosing textbooks, determining course content, and deciding which courses are offered.

In other words, government has known for a long time what Maxim is only just now waking up to – this is what the Tomorrow's Schools reforms of 1989 were all about.

We have a high trust model both for teachers and boards. So your theme of celebrating governance is most apt. There is no doubt that parents, through you, school's boards of trustees, have enormous influence on our schools.

The opportunity to participate in the governance of our schools is something that should be celebrated: it is both a privilege and a unique and significant responsibility, as it places each of you in a position where you can make improved student achievement a reality.

I'm not trying to kid any of you – I've had boards of trustees members describe their job as being as tiring as it is rewarding. It places huge demands on you; it can often be frustrating.

And yet of course, you continue to front up for your communities, for your schools, for our children, because you believe schools should be Where all Kids Achieve.

I hope we have all read the studies, seen the statistics, and know the story of achievement in our schools now: many of our students are achieving at the highest levels by international standards. Our education system is quite frankly not only world class but world leading – we need to acknowledge and celebrate that more often.

Latest NCEA data shows school leavers with no qualification dropped from 15.3 per cent in 2003 to 13 per cent in 2004. There has also been an increase in the number of achievement or unit standards gained by students. This is a reflection of our education system being more adaptable to the needs of every student.

One of the worst things I have witnessed this year is the unwarranted undermining of NCEA. This must go to the heart of the confidence and sense of achievement of our kids.

There was an undeniable problem with Scholarship this year and the Government moved rapidly to fix it. But it did not affect NCEA, as some are wont to imply – which has on the whole been well implemented over the last three years.

According to PISA 2003 the mean performance of New Zealand 15-year-olds was significantly higher than the OECD mean: for mathematics; for reading; for science; and for problem solving.

However, in individual classrooms and schools we also know that there are kids who are not sharing in this success. These students need extra support or a different approach to achieve as well as their peers and to reach their goals.

We have decided the gap between our highest and lowest achieving students is simply too wide and we must continue to address this.

In your role as school trustees, you can directly influence the way in which schools respond to this challenge.

You are responsible for setting the strategic direction and vision for your schools, with a clear mandate to raise achievement for every student.

I would like to share an anecdote with you about a secondary school where recently I felt compelled to use my powers under the Education Act to intervene, replacing the board with a commissioner.

I will not name the school because that is not important. What is important, is that you know this was a school divided. The staff room had become a fractured place, with teachers feeling intimidated and bullied by the principal. The Board of Trustees too had become factionalised and in so doing paralysis had taken grip. An Education Review Office (ERO) report sounded alarm bells, saying that the well being of students was at serious risk.

These are never easy decisions to make. However, a few days after the statutory manager was in place a board member wrote to the local newspaper extolling the virtues of this school which that person saw as the increased school roll, increased numbers of foreign fee paying students; and new sports facilities that had been built.

That letter gave me reassurance that I had done the right thing, for where was the mention of student achievement, measures of effective teaching and those other important things that prepare our students for their future?

As your conference theme suggests, the measure of success of school governance has to be the success of our students.

It's not about bricks and mortar, nor the number of bums, New Zealand or foreign, on seats. That's not enough.

A board’s priorities for improved student outcomes should be centred on your decisions around teacher professional development, the use of school resources and finance and how to get all parents involved in their children’s learning.

This is our challenge, this is our goal.

Increasingly, schools are now using student achievement data as a basis for setting evidence-based targets and for improving teaching practices. I encourage you to continue this practice, and to work with principals to analyse student learning data.

There are some critical questions you can ask about students who are at risk of not achieving and about the progress of Mâori and Pasifika students and those with special needs.

You can also look at current and past performance, and ask: How do we know our students have performed well and whether our programmes are working? How have students performed compared to each other and to those in similar schools? Are students engaged in learning? Are they attending school when they should be? If not, can we set a school-wide target to improve this?

Your job is to support principals and to hold them accountable.

Principals need to convince you, using the evidence, that they are helping every child to succeed to the best of their ability. You need to be told what's working and what isn’t.

You also have a responsibility to work with the parents in your communities to ensure they know and understand what is going on in your school and what is working for their children.

By communicating your schools’ plans and progress to parents and whânau, you can celebrate success with your communities where targets are being met and develop inclusive processes for setting charters and goals for future years.

This can be a tremendously rewarding process, but it is not an easy one, and government is committed to supporting you in this role on a number of fronts.

We have made a significant investment in assessment for learning tools such as the Assess to Learn programme and the assessment tools for teaching and learning (asTTle), which can help you to identify and review student achievement trends.

The latest version of asTTle can create reports showing in-school comparisons, as well as providing regular comparisons with external trends.

Tools like the Curriculum Exemplars, SchoolSMART and the accredited student management systems can also assist your planning.

SchoolSMART is accessible through the LeadSpace website and can compare governance and management information from your school with other groups of schools, while the student management systems can supply you with statistics and graphs for student groupings like ethnicity, gender and year level.

The focus on achievement and data is also relevant for parents. We know that children do better at school when they are actively encouraged at home by their parents.

By knowing more about achievement data and their child’s progress at school, parents can be involved in decisions about where their child is succeeding and where improvements need to be made.

We have had some good feedback on the Team-Up information programme we launched earlier this year to help parents get more involved in their children’s education.

As a first step in implementing this programme, a new brochure, How is my child progressing? has been made available to all schools. This brochure helps parents and families to understand the role of assessment for learning.

As you may know, Tana Umaga is fronting Team-Up and we will be seeing more of Tana when the programme gets officially under way in October this year.

Another way in which government supports your role is through resourcing.

It is no accident that New Zealand is now the third highest spender on State schooling in the OECD – this reflects a strong, sustained and smart investment from this government in the elements of education that are making a difference for our students.

We have concentrated on getting the basics of good education right.

When Labour entered Government in 1999 we found a schooling sector that was beset with internal divisions, and had been run down.

Some schools had been given financial inducements to accept bulk funding at an artificially high level – but which, nevertheless left the sector underfunded.

We set about increasing the funding to the sector in real terms.

I will give you brief outline of what we have achieved:

Since 1990 we have increased the number of teachers over and above those needed to match roll growth by 3040 and we have increased teacher salaries by, on average, 23 percent. This has arrested the teacher shortage crisis we faced when we came to office. We have increased the operations grant by 15 per cent over an above the rate of inflation. In actual funding the operations grant has gone up by $265 million or 39 per cent. This year we will fund school transport to the tune of $113 million – a 28 per cent increase over 1999. The contestable funding pot now stands at $109 million. Most of this is new funding added from scratch in the past six years. We will offer $47 million worth of curriculum support to schools this year. This compares to $21 million spent in 1999 and is a 128 per cent increase. ICT programmes and initiatives, including laptops for teachers and principals, and free software licences to schools, will receive $52 million in funding – an 83 per cent increase. The five-year property programme has already injected $892 million into creating modern up-to-date learning environments and in the next five years another $1.2 billion will be invested. These are staggering figures.

When these, and many other areas, are added up, we have increased the resourcing to schools from roughly $4 billion to 5.3 billion – schools have had a massive increase of $1.3 billion dollars, since 1999.

This is one of the reasons why your teachers are able to do such a good job for our children. It is one of the reasons why the proportion of parents choosing a state or an integrated school is so high by world standards – at 96 per cent.

I do not believe your organisation can accuse this government of underfunding the schools sector.

It is in this context of overall government spending that I want to talk about locally raised funds.

Because despite this massive increase in schools funding, I would not be surprised to hear that you still do not believe that the level of government funding is adequate.

I want to address this point in some detail. But first I would take issue with the figures and the way the School Trustees Association has been using them.

Firstly, I note that STA like to compare locally raised funds with the ops grant. The ops grant, makes up about one fifth of the government's total resourcing of schools. While it is a comparison that you might believe suits your purpose I do not believe that it is instructive or appropriate.

Secondly, net locally raised funds do not amount to $500 million as claimed in the welcoming press release sent out last week. The funds actually realised, after costs are deducted, are about half this amount. To give a simple example, a pie bought for $1.50 from the wholesaler and sold by the tuck shop for $2 is not $2 of net revenue – it is 50 cents.

Thirdly, if we are going to have a sensible and rationale debate about the contributions being made by parents, then including trading sales and income generated from foreign fee paying students is a nonsense.

And lastly, parental contributions, as distinct from donations, are payments for extra-curricular activities, which the government does not, and has never, directly funded. The net effect of parental contributions for extra-curricular activities should be neutral on a school's books, unless schools have chosen to subsidize those activities. This applies as much to the school camp as it does to course related "take home" materials in technical subjects like woodwork – if indeed it is still called woodwork in your schools these days.

When we look at true donations from parents or the community we come to a figure of about $180 million, which equates to about 3.4 per cent of the government's $5.3 billion total resourcing of schools.

This is a significant contribution. And I acknowledge the role of parents and the wider community in the contribution they make.

We clearly need to have a proper discussion of the role of parental contributions. At one extreme school donations could be banned! That would be unrealistic, and contrary to the place of schools in the community, which goes wider that just the teaching of the curriculum.

At the other extreme, you could mischievously interpret a donation as a government shortfall. I think you will struggle to gain much headway with this argument when schools have acknowledged spending their "donations" on everything from corporate boxes at a sports stadium, to investing in promising young rugby players from Fiji who might help their First XV.

Hardly the type of spending people would expect the taxpayer to fund.

The correct place is somewhere in between, and I believe that on the whole the Government has got it about right.

The Government funds the teaching of the curriculum: I note that National want to reduce the size of the curriculum and government funding levels – at least there is some internal consistency there!

We believe we have done a very good job of getting that funding at an appropriate level.

Ops Review You issued a challenge to me before the conference started to focus on the issue of schools operational grants. In a moment I'd like to accept that challenge.

But first, I want to focus on a couple of myths currently gaining some traction – that is, that there is some giant glass sky-scraper in Wellington somewhere housing thousands of education bureaucrats; and that hundreds of millions would be available to schools if we were to get rid of them.

National's John Key, concerned that the Ministry of Education had doubled in size, says he can cut the education bureaucracy without impacting on the "frontline".

But Mr Key is wrong, the Ministry has not doubled, it has more than tripled – not because the bureaucracy has blown out of control but because special education was combined with the Ministry in February 2002.

As at 1 January 2005, of the Ministry's 2300 full time equivalent staff, some 1821 were working in special education (that's 80 per cent of the Ministry) – these are people such as speech and language therapists, education psychologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists. As you would know in your schools – these are the frontline.

Nor are they all based in Wellington. If we look at the total head count for the Ministry, which includes temporary staff and those employed for only part of a week, there are 3180 staff. Of this some 75 per cent or 2390 are employed outside of the capital.

And they are delivering directly to schools. 71 per cent of those employed by the Ministry (that's 2265 people) are providing direct support to learners and teachers or directly to schools and their governance bodies.

In fact, out of the Ministry's 3180 staff only 307 can be characterised as developing policy for the 765,000 students; 43,800 teachers; and 2650 schools in our country. Disproportionate? Well, you decide. The myth of the education bureaucracy – coming to a billboard near you soon.

The second myth I want to address is related, and is one that says Budget 2005 delivered more money to the Ministry of Education than it delivered to schools. Bill English has repeatedly said this. It is one of his biggest lies.

Budget 2005 delivered an extra $36.7m directly to schools, teachers and learners – some three times the $9.9million that went to Ministry projects. You should know that included in that Ministry figure are things like $3.1million (or a third of new Ministry spending) on developing the e-asTTle assessment tool, mentioned earlier, which will be delivered to schools. Another $1.2 million went to the Te Kete Ipurangi web portal for teachers, and the Te Mana information programme which is already making a huge difference in raising expectations of achievement.

Schools like yours should note that all of these are calculated in the government financial year – not the calendar year you work to. When we slice the figures by school year what we find is that Budget 2005 will deliver your schools an extra $65million in 2006 and beyond, or around six times the new funding that will go to the Ministry for projects in 2006.

And this includes $22 million in new operational funding, which seems an appropriate time to look at the ops grant.

We have listened to concerns about the level of the ops grant. There are concerns from schools that despite an increase by 15% in real per student terms since1999 – many schools believe that it still does not meet operational needs.

ICT hardware and support staff, are two specific areas that have been raised as needing to be looked at.

On the Government side we have concerns that schools may not be getting all the benefits available from collaboration with other schools – whether in bulk purchase options, or even subject options. Nor may there be complete transparency about how schools are using their discretion in the allocation of the ops grant.

Having said all this, you will be pleased to know that the Government has initiated a review of Operational Funding. The review will look at the core costs to schools. It will look at how well the government resources these costs, and it will look at best practice with regard to key costs. The funding of ICT hardware and support staff will be included in this review.

The review will involve STA. I will stress now that the Government is not of a mind to reduce the discretion Boards of Trustees have over the ops grant.

The government has always been committed to ensuring that schools are sufficiently resourced to carry out their key task of providing a quality education for our children – and that is what we will continue to do.

Government recognises your important role in the operation of boards around the country, and will provide nearly $7 million over four years to support your organisation. This money will go towards independent industrial, personnel and governance advice for trustees, principals and school staff.

Policy differences Supporting boards, principals and teachers is a focus of the government's policy in education. There are sharp differences between the Labour-led government and other parties on education.

There is the strange idea of trust schools. This is much more extreme than the reforms that we underwent 15 years ago. As mentioned at the beginning of this speech, our state school governance structures are already amongst the most autonomous in the OECD.

How much further could you go – I would suggest that what is being proposed is the removal of the democratic element from our school boards – either politically appointed boards, or maybe self-appointed in perpetuity and with the ability to dispose of schools in much the same way Taranaki Electricity assets have been treated.

This would be nothing less than the privatisation of our state education system. Our schools are already run by the community. Trust schools seem to be a way of removing the participation of parents from the running of their schools.

And remember, Brash is on record in a major speech this year as saying "I don't care who owns the schools". (May 2005).

The idea of elite trust schools is an explicit call for a two tier school system – where some parents will have access to elite schools on behalf of their kids, and rest will access only what a severely reduced education spend would pay for.

How would access to elite schools be regulated? Because it would not be through zoning. I think you would find that the answer would be the market mechanism. Brash promotes Trust schools, which would regulate access according the fees that parents would be willing to pay. Parental choice is a good thing – but it is actually about having access to the best quality education wherever you live – and about having the choice of going to your local school.

We have got the mix about right with a mixture of enrolment schemes guaranteeing local access – with the right to apply to other schools if they have room.

And the quality of education is about the quality of our boards, principals and teachers. Labour has put a lot of resource into teaching standards.

There are signs that these standards are not high in National's priorities. Don Brash is on record endorsing an illegal unregistered school operating with unqualified teachers. Their proposed voucher idea would divert funding from the school system to such operations. National's attitude to community involvement is no better articulated than in the words of Bill English on Radio New Zealand last Monday:

(I quote) "No ifs, no buts, and no fighting in school communities over whether to have it. Everyone is going bulk funding. It’s a political decision. We’re not going to make boards and principals make that decision, the politicians will decide. National has decided and that’s where we’re going.

That brings me to bulk funding.

You can forget the financial inducements this time, it would be compulsory!

It would mean a divided teaching community not a collaborative one.

It would also mean that again there would be winners and losers in terms of teacher retention. Currently the Government pays the salary whether you employ an experienced teacher or a less experienced one.

Under bulk funding, wealthy schools would attract the most experienced teachers. Students would gravitate to schools with better teachers. National's two-tier education system would be polarised even further.

This is not the New Zealand way.

Labour's vision is that every New Zealander, no matter who they are or where they live, have access to the educational opportunities they need to succeed in life.

Our Labour-led government is committed to education, and we've made good progress. We know there is a lot more work to do, and we know just how critical our task is.

Quality education is vital to the future of our country, the decisions we make today will impact on New Zealanders for decades to come.

In closing,

I want to thank you for your role in contributing to the success of our students now and into the future. We have a quality education system that we can all take pride in, and each of you is an essential part of this.

As I've highlighted there are a number of myths emerging around the education system, to do with the bureaucracy and funding, which simply are not true. Letting the parents of students at your schools know that facts is surely another challenge for boards of trustees.

I hope you will carry the optimism of this conference’s theme and objectives with you into your work in schools around the country, and that you continue to provide the kind of governance and support that does enable all our students to achieve.

Thank you.


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