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Parata: Speech to the NZ OECD Conference on ECE

Hekia Parata

9 December, 2013

Speech to the NZ OECD Conference on ECE

Talofa lava, Kia orana, Mālō e lelei, Ni sa bula vinaka, Taloha ni, Fakaalofa lahi atu, and greetings to you all.

Welcome everyone to the New Zealand Early Childhood Education and Care conference, organised in cooperation with the OECD.

I wish to extend a warm welcome, in particular, to all the OECD representatives and partner countries who have travelled a long way to be here today - it is a great pleasure to welcome you to New Zealand.

I’m delighted to be here and to give some opening comments to this conference.

It is an amazing opportunity to have so many national, and international, policy makers and academics in one room together to discuss our national early childhood education (ECE) curriculum, Te Whāriki.

In New Zealand, we see the work of the OECD on international education indicators, and Education-at-a- Glance, to be of significant value.

It provides one of the few ways we are able to view the performance of our system in an international context.

In particular, we recognise and support the value and importance of investment in people, skills and education, in the current global economic context, that has been a theme of recent Education-at-a-Glance publications.

These publications show us that New Zealand is doing well in a number of areas.

They indicate that we are:

• investing 7.3% of our GDP in education – the seventh highest in the OECD

• investing 20% of all public expenditure in education – the second highest percentage in the OECD

• in the top third of countries for participation in early childhood education (ECE) – 95.8% as at September 2013 and

• in the top seven countries for the percentage of public expenditure allocated to ECE.

We need to make sure that this relatively high level of expenditure is supporting all children and young people to achieve good outcomes.

Before I get to the specifics of what my Government is doing to ensure delivery of effective, high participation ECE services in New Zealand, I want to take a minute to talk more generally about New Zealand’s education sector.

Five years ago New Zealanders overwhelmingly voted National into Government.

The National-led Government immediately set about implementing its plans, and we have made steady progress to help deliver more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders.

We were also determined to focus on education; which we felt had been neglected for too long.

We found quite a bit that needed attention.

Education had become all about which schools were going to close and what demands the teachers unions were going to make of the Government, not about how we as a nation were going to raise the achievement of our children to meet the challenges of the world they were growing up into.

We found we had the necessary quantity of teachers but not a necessary focus on the quality of teaching.

We found that the periodic national and international studies on student achievement had New Zealand stagnating in reading and declining in maths and science, but we did not have the data to understand why at an individual child level.

We also did not have any form of national assessment model for years 1-8, while there had been heavy investment in the secondary sector – with good success.

So while the National Qualification’s Framework and NCEA was bringing some clarity in terms of achievement in the secondary sector, nothing gave similar clarity in terms of how our younger children were progressing at primary school.

For these reasons we took the step that seemed radical at the time but is now seen by most parents and many teachers as logical.

We introduced National Standards so we could have, in effect, a “real time”, individual student learning record as a basis of raising achievement child by child, classroom by classroom, school by school, year on year rather than waiting for the three yearly national or international samples.

We found that the system ran as independent sectors - so there was the Early Childhood sector, the primary sector, the secondary sector, and the tertiary sector, and all its different parts.

The transitions between each had become the burden of the child because the adults – us – were not making sure the sector was sufficiently joined up to ensure some care was taken when passing children from one part of the sector to another.

I dare to imagine a world where all teachers formally handover their young charges to the next sector with a meeting, a discussion between professionals about each child, a passing on of their learning story and so on.

I even dare to dream that one day we will have an education system that sees itself as operating from 0 – 18. I am determined.

It is why I have focused on the system as a whole and the learning journey of the student from 0 – 18, and worked to focus less on the sectoral divisions.

I have been around the education sector for many years and have had a lifelong interest in education – with both my parents as teachers, and some of my siblings also working in the education sector.

I am passionate about education and what a good education did for me, and what it can do for our young people.

We have an education system that is in the top half in the world. It gives our students a platform to compete here at home and internationally.

Most of our kids are successfully getting qualifications they need from school and we must celebrate their success and the professionals, along with the whanau and Boards of Trustees and ECE centres who make that possible every day.

I am very aware that we cannot rest on our laurels, because the rest of the world sure isn’t.

And that is why our Government’s education plan is about giving every young person a better education, and raising achievement for five out of five.

The reforms I have announced since becoming Minister are not about tinkering, and some are challenging to the old way of doing things, but the evidence is clear that they are necessary to make sure we have an education system worthy of our children.

We want all our kids to be leaving school with the skills they need to reach their potential in the modern economy. That means lifting up those who are being left behind, and encouraging those who are doing well, to do even better.

To do this, we need to find new approaches to accelerating the progress and achievement of our children.

We need to look at everything we do – from high-level policy settings to what happens in the classroom, to how our schools engage with their communities. We must meet the needs of all students, and enable each and every one to fulfil their potential in education and in life.

Why is this important?

Education can make a two-fold contribution to our country. It builds our social and cultural strength, and our productivity.

That’s important for our economy, and it’s important for New Zealand.

We are a small country that must make up for size with smarts. We must out-think our competitors.

We must be able to turn clever ideas into commercially successful products that we can sell to the world. We must attract overseas businesses to use our expertise.

To do this, we need a skilled and qualified workforce that meets the demands of business and industry; that adapts to new and changing technologies. We need entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors.

And we need New Zealanders who are culturally adept, fluent and intelligent in different cultural contexts and ideally, linguistically capable – and starting that in a small way at ECE level!

In short, we need our system to equip all young New Zealanders to be successful participants in, and leaders of, a 21st century economy, and society.

Knowledge, qualifications and skills are a key that opens the door to better jobs, better incomes, and better life opportunities. This leads to improved economic and social outcomes for New Zealanders and in turn a more prosperous New Zealand for all.

That’s why we are committed to raising educational achievement for five out of five of our kids. Successful young New Zealanders grow the potential of our country; disengaged, dislocated, disappointed young people don’t.

We do not have a generation to waste.

It has been quite apparent for some time – certainly before I became the Minister but also before National became the Government – that New Zealand’s education system, while still world class and in the front rank of education systems globally, was slowly falling behind in some of the key metrics by which education systems are judged at a global level - and indeed at national and individual level.

Now I do not want you to think that this Government’s sole focus is on how we compare against other countries when it comes to Education.

Some of what makes our education both unique, and very successful, is the focus we have on educating in a very kiwi way.

But nonetheless measurement is an important part of any learning environment, and a range of reports over the last decade has painted a worrying picture of a slow decline in some key areas when New Zealand students are compared with their overseas counterparts - with mathematics and science education being at the front of that.

As you will be aware the three yearly OECD rankings of education performance – called PISA - were released last Tuesday.

The 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, which is carried out every three years, compares the performance of just over half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries or economies across reading literacy, maths and science.

I had warned for some time New Zealand was in danger of falling down the rankings as evidence has been telling us this for some time.

Of the nearly 59,000 15 year olds in New Zealand schools in 2012, just over 4000 students took part in PISA.

The results show that New Zealand 15-year-olds who came through the education system from 2001-2012 are continuing to score above the OECD average in all three topics. New Zealand is continuing to perform above the OECD average in reading, maths and science but has slipped against some countries.

Countries like Australia, Canada, Sweden and Finland have also declined, while Asian countries including China, Singapore, and Hong Kong have improved.

The results confirm that our students who are achieving at the highest level are comparable to the best in the world – but the whole education system needs to be better geared to support all of our students to succeed.

For New Zealand, PISA confirms a gradual slide which has been occurring since the early 2000s and echoes findings from earlier studies including the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) and the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS).

The decline in performance is not the result of one factor, but the combination of a number of long-standing system issues to which this group of 15 year olds has been particularly exposed.

The results confirm that our students who are achieving at the highest level are comparable to the best in the world – but the whole education system needs to be better geared to support all of our students to succeed.

Today’s teachers do an outstanding job, but their practice and development has not consistently kept up with the demands we place on them, especially in areas such as Mathematics and Science where they are telling us they are not as confident as they would like to be.

When I became the Minister almost two years ago I was determined that we refocus the system so that the leadership of the profession sat with the profession - the principals supported by excellent boards of trustees.

I immediately called together a Ministerial Cross Sector Forum on raising Achievement comprising all sector leaders and key state agencies – so we could work together on areas of common interest – such as a quality teaching agenda and professional development of our teachers and education leaders. The focus of the Forum has been on how we can together make the system better - for the purpose of giving every child a better education.

We have made some very strong strides together, and it was exciting to be able to announce recently, after extensive consultation with the education sector, that the Teachers Council will be replaced with the Education Council of Aotearoa/New Zealand (EDUCANZ), which will take on a broader mandate to lead the teaching profession and drive innovation and improvement in quality teaching initiatives and professional development.

We need a profession that isn’t afraid to take the steps necessary to ensure quality teaching is happening in every classroom, at every school, for every student.

As Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary-General, said in his recent visit to New Zealand “it is not the diversity of children in the classroom that is the challenge; it is the diversity of teaching practices in the classroom.”

The profession must set the bar high and make their expectations of themselves clear. They must also create the conditions for these expectations to be met, and hold their staff and themselves accountable when they are not.

They are responsible for supporting the innovation that will drive change and improve performance at their school.

We also need to lift up the status of the profession in the eyes of the community. In 2014 we have an exciting range of initiatives to do just that – starting with New Zealand winning the right to host the ‘World Cup of Education’, the International Summit on the Teaching Profession in March.

This summit brings education Ministers from the top ranked OECD countries who will discuss and share experiences about the performance of our education systems, and are jointly convened by the OECD, Education International and the New Zealand Government.

To complement this event, we will hold education festivals in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to bring education to the community and shine a light on the great things that are happening in New Zealand’s early childhood centres and schools.

We will also more formally celebrate success at the inaugural Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards which aim to recognise and celebrate excellence in teaching, leadership, community engagement and governance at Matariki in June next year.

We are ambitious to see all our children reach their potential and this requires every part of our education system to be doing the best that it can.

We cannot simply relocate the difficulties to the next part of the system. That is how a whole generation of young people can fall through the cracks.

We must stop simply repeating the mantra that “ours is a world class education system” and ensure that we implement the practice of it – whether the curriculum, the qualifications framework, the review and evaluation, the best evidence synthesis, the devolved yet collaborative schooling network, the high quality professionals, the engagement with community.

That is why we have instituted key target outcomes that we will be held accountable for. These Better Public Services targets relate to key parts of the system: ECE, primary and secondary schooling and the secondary / tertiary interface. Lifting the educational achievement is a driving force behind the Government’s Better Public Service education targets.

They are ambitious targets but our young deserve no less.

The ECE target is that in 2016, 98% of children starting school will have participated in quality early childhood education.

In ECE, our target focuses on lifting participation rates for those children who currently do not receive sufficient support to achieve educational success, particularly Māori and Pasifika students and students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

In New Zealand, we have relatively high overall participation rates, but the participation rates of those in these priority groups are significantly lower.

These are the children who are most often missing out on quality ECE. And we know that children who start behind, stay behind, and that the achievement gap tends to widen as they get older.

In June 2012, I established an Early Learning Taskforce within the Ministry of Education. Its role is to lead the focus on achieving this Better Public Service ECE participation target.

This Taskforce is mandated to drive performance and deliver results at a much more rapid pace. It aims to connect directly with communities to provide services and resources that meet their specific needs.

Shifts in participation have already been seen. The latest figures show, for the year ended September 2013, show that the rate is now up to 95.8 per cent with 1,640 more children participating in early childhood education than at the same time last year [Sept 2012 was 95.1 per cent].

Participation rates are expected to increase even further, because of the continued focus and effort of the Government, and respective agencies.

The establishment of the Early Learning Information system will help provide important information to inform policy and services in the ECE sector.

At the moment there is no comprehensive national system able to collect information on early childhood education attendance.

That’s why we are introducing ELI. It will collect and store identity and participation information for approximately 190,000 children at pre-school level.

As part of our drive to increase participation, we want to bring information systems for ECE up to date.

We will be in a state of continuous review and improvement, to ensure that we are delivering quality and value for taxpayers’ investment. And it will help us provide even more accurate data to the OECD.

At the beginning of last year, I established two Early Childhood Education (ECE) Advisory groups. One group focused on improving the quality of ECE services sector-wide, the other focused on improving the quality of ECE services for children aged less than two years.

Both groups drew on the expertise of their members to develop workable solutions which will provide new and practical ways of working to improve quality and consistency among ECE services.

This is particularly in relation to support for Māori and Pasifika learners and children from low socio-economic backgrounds.

There have been some exciting changes to come out of this process.

We have, for example, introduced a professional development programme called Strengthening Early Learning Opportunities. Government recognises the importance of supporting services that work with our most vulnerable communities to improve the quality of ECE they deliver.

This is why Government provided an extra $3 million per annum for the SELO programme, taking its total funding to $9 million every year.

SELO will enable ECE services to provide quality ECE by increasing their responsiveness to their communities and by adopting quality practices. SELO is comprised of three programmes all of which are designed to strengthen ECE services.

It will be focused on:

• ECE services that are not doing well (as indicated by, for example, ERO reviews and licence status)

• improving ECE services’ responsiveness to their communities, including identity, language and culture

• supporting the use of te reo Māori, leadership, and teaching practice for literacy, mathematics and infants and toddlers.

The Education Review Office is the government department that evaluates and reports on the education and care of students in schools and early childhood services.

The Education Review Office has changed the way it reviews early childhood services. The introduction of four different review return times means that the Education Review Office, and the Ministry of Education, can concentrate their resources in services that need it the most.

I am pleased to see the revised review methodology was welcomed by the sector.

The Education Review Office has also increased its focus on a service’s self-review and what services are doing to help their priority learners.

ERO is now progressing with its review of how its approach in home-based services so its reviews take account of the diversity within the ECE sector.

We recognise the role parents play in the education of children and want to ensure they are provided with the best information possible about ECE and its benefits. So we have developed a range of communications materials, from an information book and pamphlets, to a radio campaign and a Facebook page, that seek to engage families of children not yet participating in early learning opportunities.

These materials aim to raise awareness of the values and benefits of early learning and ECE and develop parent engagement which we know can be critical to children’s success.

But let’s get back to one of the main reasons you are here today and that is Te Whāriki.

Te Whāriki is New Zealand’s ECE curriculum framework.

It’s specifically designed for children from the time of birth to school entry, and provides links to learning in school settings.

Te Whāriki is a bicultural curriculum that was developed in the 1990s in consultation with representatives of ECE sector groups, including Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust.

It has an emphasis on the social and cultural contexts within which learning takes place.

It takes a child-centred approach, with integrated education and care elements, and emphasises the learning partnership between teachers, parents, whānau and children.

Te Whāriki has the aspiration for children “to grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society”.

At the time of its publication, the integration of education and care, and the age range coverage from birth to school entry, were innovative and world leading.

New Zealand is still one of only a few countries with such a curriculum.

Te Whāriki encourages children to investigate and think for themselves.

There is evidence that this type of curriculum is associated with better performance in later schooling than a curriculum that is academically oriented.

While Te Whāriki is a world leading document, it requires some expertise and knowledge to implement effectively.

The Education Review Office here recently completed an evaluation of the implementation of Te Whāriki.

It found that most ECE services were implementing a curriculum that linked in some way to the principles and strands of Te Whāriki, but Te Whāriki did not always provide the sector with clear standards of practice for high quality curriculum implementation.

So there is definitely room for improvement.

I understand that the Education Review Office is making some of its materials available to you today, so please make sure you take a look.

The successful implementation of Te Whāriki relies on the skills and expertise of teachers. A consistently high-quality teaching profession is critical.

New Zealand is committed to lifting the quality of teaching and leadership – we recognise that we are preparing our young people for a different future and this begins in ECE.

Conclusion

Across the education system, we are taking action to make it work for all of our students.

We inherited an education sector in 2008 that had seen lots of cuts and a bit of tinkering, but no focus on how we move our system, our teachers, our parents, and most important, our children forward.

We have taken this head on by having the very clear focus and action plan I have outlined today. It has not always been popular or easy.

Change is difficult. But if we don't change the parts of our system that are not working we will keep getting what we have been getting.

And that is unacceptable. I am focused on this education system of ours humming again for all our young children – for five out of five, not one, two, three, or four out of five. But for all our kids.

Ensuring each and every child gets a good education is the most important thing any Government can do to raise living standards, and create a more productive and competitive economy.

And that has to start at the very beginning, with early childhood education. High-quality early childhood education helps prepare children start school confident, engaged and eager to learn.

Thank you once again for coming today. I encourage you to make the most of your time here and I am hopeful that the conference will provide each of you with some valuable information to take with you, alongside the value you will add to early childhood education in New Zealand.

Thank you. Nga mihi nui.

ENDS


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