Clark: speech to NZEI meeting, Wellington, 21/9/99
Thank you for the invitation to
address your conference today.
I want to take this opportunity to thank NZEI for your willingness to keep Labour informed about issues in education, and for the expertise you have made available to us in our policy development.
During these long years in opposition your advice has been invaluable.
I look forward to taking what I believe is a relationship of trust and respect into government later this year.
Despite there being no announced date for the election, the country is, in reality, in the middle of an election campaign.
The billboards are going up, the policies are being released, the leaflets are going out.
Our billboards proclaim that "The future is with Labour" – and it is.
That is consistent with NZEI's election year campaign theme: "Time to win for Education". It is indeed.
Throughout the nineties there has been an enormous amount of destructive change in social policy.
Education has been bedevilled by that – as have health, social welfare, and many other areas.
The driving force for change in social policy in the nineties has not been what is good for public services like health and education, but, rather, how to fit them into an ideological straitjacket to satisfy market purists.
In education there has been an underlying agenda of having the state retreat from its provider role to a residual function as a funder; of moving to see each school operating as an independent business; and of seeing teachers as employees of those individual businesses and not as part of a national career structure.
Bulk funding has been a key part of that agenda. Were all schools to be moved to bulk funding, then the state would be on course to move to the next phase of exiting from its responsibilities for the provision of schooling.
Bulk funding saw kindergartens removed from the state sector. The precedent is clear.
Under universal bulk funding, teachers with the best will in the world would have difficulty maintaining a national salary and career structure – as schools struck out on their own to offer staff enterprise deals.
As we are all well aware, in the present government there is great hostility to collectivism. Bulk funding would be a critical step in breaking that down for teachers.
Already pressures have been applied at the level of principals where the payment of the supplementary grant is being made only to boards of trustees where the principals are on individual contracts.
It is clear to me that this is a flagrant breach of International Labour Organisation conventions.
We all know that if government education policy continues on its present course we won't have a public education system worthy of the name.
The so-called regulatory review being undertaken by the Ministry of Education looks like the final nails in the coffin are being prepared by National.
The word is that the government no longer wants to own schools; that all schools, private and public, would be funded on the same basis; and that teachers would not be employed by the state but by individual school businesses.
This nonsense has to stop. Our schools are not businesses. They are public educational services, run and operated in the public interest to meet a wide range of educational and other public interest objectives.
That is why I have given my word to your national executive, that one of Labour's first steps in government will be to stop the Ministry's regulatory review.
It is leading education down a path which Labour has no desire whatsoever to tread.
We have an entirely different vision for education.
Labour has always had an absolute belief in the power of education to transform societies and individuals.
We see education as an intrinsic good. We know well of its contribution to economic growth and prosperity. But we know too of education's enormous importance in enabling people to know about and participate in our society and to know about and care about our world.
We know of the contribution education makes to making our society more interesting, more informed, and more tolerant.
We believe in the power of education for all these reasons.
We also represent a political movement which fought for access to quality education as a basic right for all New Zealanders.
Most adults here today grew up in a New Zealand where the local community school was the automatic choice for our education. There was little sense that one was disadvantaged by going to one school rather than another.
But these days education is caught up in the widening gaps which have developed between New Zealanders.
- rich and poor
- Maori and Pakeha
- Pacific Island people and Pakeha
As the market philosophy has spread over into social policy, so winner and loser schools have developed. Alas in the end it is the children who are the losers in the loser schools – as quality education cannot be offered to them.
Last week a new study revealed that the number of students from poor schools going to university had dropped by 23 per cent, while the number going from schools in affluent areas had risen by 25 per cent.
There are probably two main reasons for that. One is that children remaining in schools in poor communities are economically and socially disadvantaged. The costs of university education are simply unthinkable for their families.
The other is the tendency for flight out of schools in poor neighbourhoods by children whose parents have aspirations for them, depriving those schools of the full range of abilities they could have within the student body.
There is a groundswell in New Zealand today in support of closing the gaps which have developed between us. That was the message the Hikoi brought to Wellington last year.
And it is a message Labour has heeded in developing its education policy – and indeed in developing all its policies.
We see education as a powerful vehicle for uplifting all communities.
A good education policy contains both a strong vision for education and practical plans for achieving that vision.
Two months ago, we released such a policy. It is detailed, it is pragmatic, and it is educationally sound.
The policy addresses three priority areas:
• Improving the quality of the education our children receive
• Closing the gaps between schools and in achievement rates between different sections of our population.
• Upgrading our school facilities, including buildings and technology.
Under the heading of quality, a number of initiatives will be taken.
We will review the shape and quality of teacher education
Within a relatively short time the number of teacher education providers has mushroomed from the original six colleges to 21.
The quality of teacher training is far from even. Many schools won't even consider recruiting graduates from certain courses. Yet students enrol in those courses in good faith and at considerable cost. They must be able to have confidence that their training is of an acceptable standard. It is the responsibility of the state and its agencies to see that it is.
The development of an Education Council
We see this developing from the Teacher Registration Board as a body providing professional leadership and establishing and enforcing professional standards and a general code of ethics for teachers. It will have the final say in the recognition of teacher education courses.
A strong commitment to professional development for teachers
The proposals in the government's 1997 teacher education green paper for bulk funding the resource presently available through the teachers' colleges for in-service advisory and training services will be abandoned. We want strong in-service advisory and training services to remain where they are – as centres of excellence and expertise to be drawn on by all schools.
Bulk funding the money for that in dribs and drabs would be unlikely to meet the needs of any school.
We strongly support universal registration for all teaching staff. The Education Council will be empowered to set criteria for the maintenance of registration which will include evidence that professional development has been undertaken.
The quality of teaching also relates to staffing ratios and to funding. We don’t believe that the present staffing formula serves low decile and rural schools well – nor schools with teaching principals. There will be a staffing working party set up to address these specific issues. It will be required to report within 12 months.
On base funding, there will be an annual inflation adjustment of operation grants so that they retain their real value.
National testing of student achievement forms no part of Labour’s policy. But we will be asking schools to ensure that they have clear systems of reporting to parents on student progress on literacy and numeracy at least twice a year. The work done by the National Education Monitoring Project already provides valuable baseline information on education standards.
The Role of the Education Review Office.
Labour strongly supports a strong education inspection, review, and audit function.
It is fair to say, however, that we believe ERO’s mandate is rather narrow and that the outcome of its adverse reports can be destructive, not constructive.
Our aim is to see clear benchmarks set for school standards. We believe that the Ministry and ERO must work closely together to see that all schools are brought up to those standards.
We have drawn no conclusions as to whether ERO should be drawn back into the Ministry of Education - contrary to inaccurate reporting.
That is a matter to be examined further.
What we do want is not only the poor practices in schools identified, but something done about them.
Too often schools with poor reports are left to drift, with falling rolls, good teachers leaving, and diminishing prospects all round.
Addressing these issues of quality and standards quickly in schools is the key to restoring the community’s confidence in general in local schools – and that is a matter to which we give the highest priority.
It is crucial to closing the gaps which have developed between schools and between communities and achievement levels in them.
Another gap which has developed is between bulk funded schools and those who have chosen not to accept bulk funding.
Without question this has been one of the most divisive issues in education – setting trustees against principals and staff – or trustees and principals against staff – and setting school against school.
Bulk funding will not continue under Labour – but the money set aside for it will be reallocated to all schools on a fair basis to be used at schools’ discretion for staffing, or equipment, or whatever need is identified.
Early Childhood Education
Our policy on early childhood education is being finalised in the coming week. You can expect from Labour a strong commitment to the sector, as we appreciate fully the overwhelming importance of the education and support children receive in the first years of life.
You can also put a ring around this: Labour will legislate to bring kindergartens back into the state sector. We take pride in kindergartens establishing a high level of education in the sector and in their maintaining a workforce of fully trained and educated teachers.
Labour will also be extending the requirements for teacher registration to the entire early childhood sector.
NZEI has long called for a long-term strategic plan for early childhood education. Labour looks forward to working with you to develop that plan within our first year.
On special education, we have puzzled over how the government policy initiative, Special Education 2000, purported to make more money available, but resulted in as many families as ever, if not more, feeling aggrieved about the service available to their child.
NZEI's latest report on the workings of the new system is constructive.
We believe that a significant problem with the new system has been the misdirection of the Special Education Grant. Because it is allocated to all schools on a per-pupil basis, regardless of the number of children with special needs, it disadvantages "magnet" schools which attract a disproportionately high number of such students.
We will ensure that the Special Education Grant is targeted towards magnet schools.
We will also:
• reassess the boundary between high and moderate special needs
• investigate using cluster arrangements for the allocation of what is presently the Special Education Grant
• review the funding for established special education units to ensure that where their long term enrolment patterns have been positive, their viability will be ensured.
• reinstate a visiting teacher service
• establish a working party to investigate ways to address the needs of gifted children.
Our policy commits Labour in government to develop a long-term action plan for Maori education.
In our first year in government, we will:
• fund Maori educators to liaise with Maori throughout the country about the future of Maori education, including a potential role for a Maori Education Authority, so that Maori are able to provide ideas and solutions which will benefit Maori in education
• host a Hui Taumata – "Matauranga 2000" – to bring together Maori educators and community leaders to share the ideas gathered from talking with Maori people and to develop and plan for long-term progress in Maori education.
There is also a raft of initiatives in the policy for encouraging more Maori to enter teaching, become competent in te reo Maori, and address workload pressures on Maori teachers.
There is a major commitment to increasing the availability of Maori language resources.
Pacific peoples' education in New Zealand also requires new initiatives and strategies as Pacific children too are relatively disadvantaged. Work on a national strategy will be ongoing, and we will continue support for scholarships to attract Pacific people into teaching.
A long-standing issue in education has been the lack of recognition, training, and career structure for support staff.
We are committed to recognising the work of the staff and consulting with NZEI on the development of appropriate pay scales, conditions, and career structures. We are as concerned as NZEI at the potential of the so-called community wage scheme to displace people who have had paid employment as support staff.
I also want to reiterate Labour's commitment to the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act and its replacement with legislation which is fair to employees. The new law will give unions legal recognition and promote collective bargaining and bargaining in good faith.
An enormous amount of thought has gone into our education policy to make it practical in meeting the needs of schools and students – while also meeting our overriding objectives of closing the gaps which have developed between schools, communities, and children and ensuring that throughout the state and integrated school system there is a high standard of education.
We do have great faith in our public education system. The purpose of our policy is to back our schools and our teachers in doing the very best they can for students.
Investing in education is the most important investment any government can make in the future of the country.
We will only maintain first world living standards by having our economy and our society driven by knowledge, skill, and technology.
That process starts in the community with quality education for our children. Nothing is more important.
Education is a front line issue this election. The choice is clear between the current path of privatisation, deregulation and competition, and a fresh start on rebuilding a public education system where co-operation and a commitment to community schooling are the basic values. I know that many teachers will want to join with Labour in making that fresh start. It is indeed time to win for education.