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Maharey: Greater Wgtn Secondary School Principals

Greater Wellington Secondary Schools' Principals Association

Steve Maharey outlines the government's goal to transform New Zealand into a smarter place to live and work and discusses the vital role that education has in this transformation


Speech notes for an address to the Greater Wellington Secondary Schools' Principals Association Meeting

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga hau e wha
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Good morning everyone. Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today.
My theme this morning is 'secondary schools that make a difference'.

Firstly I want to talk a little about government's goal to transform New Zealand into a smarter place to live and work and discuss the vital role that education has in this transformation

Secondly I want to talk about three secondary schools that are making a difference for their students. I also want to reflect briefly on what we can learn from these examples.

Thirdly I want to consider some of the challenges around this and discuss what all of us can do to ensure each and every school is making the difference we seek.

Transforming New Zealand

As a government we want to make a difference. This government is committed to the economic transformation for New Zealand.

We want a country with globally competitive firms. We want innovative and productive workplaces. We want internationally competitive cities with a world-class infrastructure.

We also want every New Zealander to share in this transformation and have a genuine stake in the future. We want New Zealanders to be proud Kiwis who can succeed on the global stage.

We want Kiwis who are:
·confident, reliable and enterprising
·connected to each other and the wider world, and
·actively involved in creating New Zealand's wellbeing.

What is required of the education system?

Education is at the heart of government's vision to transform New Zealand into a knowledge based economy and society.

As partners in education I believe we share a vision where all our young people are well prepared by education to meet the future challenges and fully participate in tomorrow's world.

Government has three key goals for the education system:
·high education standards so every New Zealander has the foundation skills and knowledge they need
·high levels of achievement, and
·New Zealanders who stay involved in learning so that they can make the most of their social and economic potential.

Over the last six years we have made considerable progress towards these goals.

Our increased emphasis on literacy and numeracy stands out in our performance in the OECD. In surveys of school achievement our students consistently score in the top half of the OECD, with many students in the top 25 per cent.

Despite this success we still have a wide gap in achievement between our best and more poorly performing students.

What we require now is a whole-of-system approach that prioritises a uniquely New Zealand response to the goals we have set.

We are a diverse people, living in a physically challenging country half a world away from most major centres of population.

Most of the international research on building knowledge societies is based on countries very different from ours. Their solutions will not necessarily work for us. We must continue to build a Kiwi education system.

A system supporting students who do not grasp something the first time so they get another opportunity to learn.

A system that genuinely respects young people for who they are and a system responsive to young people's talents and interests.

A system where every young person can achieve to the best of their potential and become our future artists, mathematicians, scientists or entrepreneurs.

Every secondary school has a key role in making this happen.

Jane Gilbert a researcher with the New Zealand Council for Education Research says - 'if we want a knowledge society in New Zealand we must first develop a system of knowledge schools."

So what might a 'knowledge school' look like? And how should we go about transforming our system so that all schools are making the difference we need for transformation as a country?

Three secondary schools that are making a difference

I believe secondary schools can make a real difference in New Zealand. Across the country new secondary schools are showing us the way. Here in Wellington a new high school is turning NCEA results around. In Auckland new learning structures are being created in a recently opened secondary school. In Christchurch a special character secondary school focussing on the individual learning needs of students has been successfully established

Wainuiomata High School

One new secondary school making a difference that is quite close to home is Wainuiomata High School.

Formed after the review of education provision in the area the school is the result of the merger between Wainuiomata and Parkway Colleges

A particular focus for the new school has been student achievement both at entry level and for national qualifications. The school has prioritised both literacy and numeracy development across the curriculum and incorporated whole school approaches to behaviour management.

Teachers meet for an hour every week for a dedicated professional learning session.

When Deputy Principal Brenda Service spoke to a group of Ministry of Education and union representatives late last year, she described the learning sessions as instrumental in turning around ways of working and learning in the school.

The result has been a big shift in results at NCEA Level 1 - the percentage of students achieving Level 1 has increased from 11 per cent in 2002 to 52 per cent in 2005.

So what's making the difference here? Focussed professional development has clearly played a big part. But so too has community confidence in the school. With this new confidence, the Wainuiomata community are in turn raising their expectations of achievement for their children, which in turn is again bolstering the results of the students. I am confident that results will continue to improve in this school.

Alfriston College in Auckland

In the last few years a number of new state secondary schools have been established in Auckland.

The physical design of these schools has focussed on improving learning outcomes with:

·accessible and up-to-date learning technologies
·networked passageways - for easy and safe movement
·user friendly student and teaching learning environments, and
·outdoor spaces, in harmony with the school.

These physical aspects help to create positive learning environments, but what's been more important is how the curriculum is influencing teaching and learning and what we can learn from this.

In Alfriston College an innovative programme of curriculum integration operates at Year 9 to ensure all students begin their secondary schooling with strong foundations. NCEA level one courses begin at Year 10. Years 10 and 11 are the 'graduation' years with Years 12 and 13 focussed on getting specialist qualifications.

The graduation curriculum is designed to offer realistic and interesting courses of study, equip students with the must-knows for entry into Year 12 and lead to a minimum of 105 standards at NCEA level 1.

Alfriston College holds that students learn best if they are challenged from an early stage and can see the point of what they are learning. Their curriculum is designed to give every student a clear learning pathway from their first days at secondary school.
We can all learn from these principles of clarity and challenge.

A new special character secondary school in Christchurch

In Christchurch the Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti Secondary School opened in Term 1 2003 and is located in a purpose built learning environment in the central business district.

This location gives students access to public facilities like the central library, museums and the Christchurch City Council's resource centres and leisure facilities. It also means the students are surrounded by a vibrant culture of enterprise and business.

Unlimited's curriculum aims to make student interests the centre of school activities, and to make learning as enjoyable as possible by being self-directed and relevant.

Students learn alongside community experts and mentors, as well as qualified teachers. Parents and caregivers are also active partners in the learning process.

When a student begins at Unlimited an individual education plan is developed specifically for them. These plans have two complementary parts:
·a focus on student-directed learning - students learn individually or in small groups supported by e-Learning, and
·adviser-directed learning - here there's a mix of integrated and curriculum focused units.

Again there are lessons here for us all about flexible structures where we can meet the full range of individual students' needs and interests and support their learning in new ways.

The challenge ahead

These new schools are undoubtedly creating quality teaching and learning opportunities for their students. Teaching and learning has been shaped in a distinctive way to meet the learning needs of students and their communities.

Modern technology has been made available to them in a way many other schools have had to struggle to build up.

They have had clean-slate advantages that those of you who are principals in well established existing schools have not had. They have been able to tailor resources to their needs and handpick their foundation staff.

But, the recipe for success at these schools is not just the result of these clean-slate advantages.

The foundation for their success has been an absolute commitment by staff to ensure every student can make the most of their opportunities, and to ensure each student receives personalised support in their quest to become a successful life-long learner. This is what makes the difference.

And as well as a new physical environment, these schools are being shaped by their leadership.

Each principal has had a big impact on how the curriculum is organised to meet student learning needs.

We are also seeing how important leaders throughout the school are in creating new cultures of learning.

Leaders who share a common vision for their school and for their students. Leaders and teachers who create that special relationship with their students so learning thrives.

The work from here

Our challenge is to create a system of secondary schooling that is capable of doing this throughout New Zealand.

A secondary schooling system responsive to individual student needs. And one that makes a difference for all.

To help achieve our shared vision for knowledge schools a number of things can be done:
·please continue your work on the Schooling Strategy and involving your parents in this process
·have your say in the Curriculum Project - the curriculum is currently being revised to make it more relevant to the 21st century - and we want to hear from you
·continue to develop the leadership capability in your school. Improving cross school performance means having strong cross-school middle leadership. The career pathways work being steered by the Ministry of Education and involving both PPTA and NZSTA is a good starting point.
·supporting new staff - to go from good to great we need 'the right people on the bus' and these people 'sitting in the right seats'. Your appointment, induction and appraisal processes are critical here.
·Involvement in Secondary Futures Project - In Budget 2006 there is a new allocation of $3 million over the next three years to continue this project. This new money allows the continued development of a long-term vision for our secondary schooling. You can get involved in this project by going to in the first instance.


In the next few months it's unlikely you will head a new school with a blank sheet of paper.

But, through the Schooling Strategy, the Curriculum Project, Secondary Futures and the initiatives you know are working in your own school and community, you can have a dialogue about the future shape of secondary schooling in New Zealand.

This dialogue involving staff, your boards and the wider community will help to shape your schools as we move towards transforming our country into a knowledge-based society.

You can help bring about this transformation by making an assessment on how well your school is currently doing and assessing what you, your school and your community can do to continue to raise student achievement.

We need a whole system of secondary schools that make a difference. I am sure we all agree that as a society we need to get the most we can from all our schools. Every student deserves the best from their time in school.

There is a lot to think about, debate and get on and do to ensure that New Zealand is at the cutting edge in terms of the type of education system that is geared to support all those taking part in it.

We need educational leaders in secondary schools who are prepared to move out of their current comfort zones and to start considering what alternatives might look like.

I wish you all the best in this vital work.

Thank you.


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