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Smith Speech: 10th Anniversary of Tomorrows School

Address to
The Next Chapter in the Story of New Zealand Schools

Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
Friday 1 October 1999, 7.45am

Kia Ora Hui Hui Tatou Katou

I, like others, want to start with thank yous.

I want to join with the Prime Minister and others and pay tribute to the thousands of people who have served on our Boards of Trustees.

I also want to acknowledge our thousands of principals and teachers that always have been, and always will be, the heart of our schools.

I must also thank and congratulate all the agencies that were born alongside Tomorrow's Schools; the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office and Specialist Education Services. I would like to make particular reference to the School Trustees Association who to this day have been constructive contributors to the ongoing development of education policy.

I also want to put on record my thanks to the Prime Minister for the encouragement and leadership that has gone into the ideas for the next chapter in the story of New Zealand schools that we are launching today.

For those of us in the public policy business, it is a fascinating journey to look back on the debates around a reform as radical as that of Tomorrow's Schools.

Many claimed parents did not have the time, ability or even the interest to be involved in governing schools. Others believed our boards would become captured by pressure groups. And one of the unions (I won't be unkind and mention which one) described it as, and I quote, "nothing more, nothing less than straight privatisation."

It is interesting to note that many of the thoughts encompassed in Tomorrow's Schools are foreshadowed in Arnold Nordmeyer's report on our schools in 1974.

While our own pace of change may appear slow, internationally we have been recognised as innovators in education. Hardly a month goes by without an overseas Minister dropping by to discuss how New Zealand has involved parents in school governance.

While we can be proud of our heritage, we betray it by standing still. We need to be looking at how we can do even better for our children in the new century ahead of us.

If there is anything that has struck me in my nine months in this job, it has been the archaic state of our Education Acts and their associated regulations.

Despite Tomorrow's Schools, the bulk of our Education Act is older than I am. There are whole parts of the Act that have not changed since the last century. It is both outdated and inflexible.

I look at the sixteen Acts and thirteen regulations (and they stand considerable taller than my 20 month old daughter Hazel), and ask myself whether they provide the best framework possible to take her and her generation to being balanced, well-educated, contributing New Zealanders. Words like learning, standards and excellence are almost absent. It's all about process rather than results.

Take an issue as simple as a School Board's AGM. Section 100 of the Act requires, and I quote, "every Board shall in every year meet, except in the case of the Board of the Correspondence School, where before the 1st of April, the Board has fixed for the meeting a day after the 31st of March and on or before the third Tuesday in May on the day fixed and in any other case on the third Tuesday in May."

Perhaps our legislators have taken inspiration from one of the greatest pieces of regulatory material in the English language, from the UK Groundnuts Act of 50 years ago. Consider this, and I quote, "In the Nuts (unground), other than ground nuts Order, the expression nuts shall have reference to such nuts, other than ground nuts, as would but for this amending Order not qualify as nuts (unground) (other than ground nuts) by reason of their being nuts (unground)."

We need a new, plain English, legal framework for schools that can keep pace with change, that recognises diversity and encourages innovation. Today, I am launching a discussion document, 'Legislation for Learning'. It is about the next chapter in the story of New Zealand schools.

'Legislation for Learning' addresses nine key issues including school governance structures, intervening more effectively in struggling schools, making the Act and Regulations more user friendly, encouraging schools to work more closely together and getting more useful tools for planning and reporting on schools' progress.

The most important shift of thinking in this document is recognition that we need to move beyond the one size fits all approach. Some schools are flying under self-management but are tied down by red tape. They need more scope for innovation and we should give it to them. Other schools are struggling with self-management and need more support.

One of the things I am determined to achieve through this process is better recognition of the huge difference in size of our schools. The extensive accountability requirements that we have are quite justifiable for a school like Rangitoto College, but quite frankly are over the top for a small school like Lake Rotoiti in my home patch. We need a regulatory approach that recognises the different sizes of our schools.

It’s also time to have a hard look at the planning and reporting documents associated with schools. Technically speaking, under the Public Finance Act all Crown Entities, including our 2700 schools, must provide an annual report. Each year since 1992 the Ministry of Education has sought an exemption, because the standard reporting approach is not appropriate for all schools.

It has always been an understanding that an alternative reporting requirement would be put in place. Careful thought needs to be given as to what would be required in such reports, and how the requirements should vary according to the size of the school.

It is also time for us to have a hard look at the Charter. Most have turned out to be a one off document that has not been of must use to the Board, principal or parents. If such documents are to be of any use they need to be living and changing documents. Interestingly, many schools now develop strategic plans. Both the Austin Report and the ERO suggest that this should be a requirement, but we need to be cautious of building a paper war for schools. The key will be focusing on the documents that are needed to help ensure a school meets the needs of its pupils.

These are exciting ideas that will take New Zealand's public schools forward. It is about strengthening the partnership with parents in the governance of schools, better recognising the diversity of schools and allowing greater innovation.

I also want to make an announcement today regarding the management of property that is consistent with the discussion document.

We resource schools though three main channels – operations, staffing and property. Schools have complete control over their operations funding and have a choice to self manage their staffing budgets. Property has been managed on a centralised basis that has given schools no capacity to plan ahead.

It has been managed in a piecemeal way. We provide some funding for deferred maintenance, some for modernisation, some for roll growth and some via the Financial Assistance Scheme. Schools that have been allocated funding for one option have often pleaded with me to be allowed to use it for something else which they think is of greater need for their students. Nor are there incentives to get maximum value for the taxpayers dollar.

Today I am announcing a new $10 million property self-management trial involving forty schools nationwide. The trial is planned for next year with the option of other schools joining in 2001.

The option of self-managing property has become available with the completion of the $560 million of deferred maintenance. We will be asking for expressions of interest from schools who are keen on taking this next logical step along the road of self-governance.

At the core of this proposal is a long term development plan for each school that will need to be approved by the Ministry of Education in parallel with a five year funding contract. Schools that opt into the self-management model will not participate in any of the centrally managed property funding pools.

Again, I congratulate all those who have been associated with Tomorrow's Schools through to its tenth birthday. As a boy, I grew up in a large household with seven siblings in which there was a very strong tradition that for one's tenth birthday one got a bicycle. It was the beginning of independence. On the tenth birthday of Tomorrow's Schools, I want to present the School Trustees Association with the first copy of 'Legislation for Learning'. May it too be a vehicle for going places.


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