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New Zealand's Children Deserve The Best

ACT New Zealand Leader Hon Richard Prebble and Education Spokesman Donna Awatere Huata today launched ACT's education policy at Otara's Ferguson Intermediate School in South Auckland.

"ACT wants New Zealand to lead the world in teaching our children to read. ACT will bulk fund every school. ACT will ensure that every child is tested to ensure that they are able to read, write and do arithmetic. ACT also supports parenting programmes that help every child arrive at school ready to learn.

"National and Labour are saying that the answer to lifting education is to put more into the teaching of science in University. No, first we must make sure that every pupil who leaves school can read. Some 75% of young Maori unemployed can't read. Teaching science at University isn't going to help them.

"Nothing will lift the economic and social prospects of New Zealand more than if we have the same achievements and commitment to excellence as Ferguson Intermediate.

ACT has come today to Otara to Ferguson Intermediate School because this school proves what every parent knows - schools make a difference. The monitoring, assessment and attention to academic achievement in this school sees its children being sought out by the best schools in Auckland.

ACT's MPs discovered Ferguson Intermediate when we visited over 300 schools in 1998 as part of the ACT Education Taskforce.

Ferguson Intermediate School proves that we can have good schools in South Auckland, that we can have high standards in reading, writing and arithmetic, that parents should have choice.

No pupil should be forced by the State to attend a failing school. ACT says every pupil should be able to attend a school that sets the standards of achievement and excellence that Ferguson does for its pupils.

We can argue whether standards are higher today than in the past, what we cannot argue is that we are falling behind the international race. In 1970 New Zealand was number one in the world in teaching our children to read, now we lead the world in remedial reading.

Even more worrying is the growing gap between the academic achievement of Maori and non Maori. Our State school system is failing. Ferguson Intermediate is showing that this failure cannot be blamed on unemployment, parents or social factors. It is a school failure.

The work of Principal Jenny Leach proves just how vital leadership is to the success of a school.

ACT wants choice in education. The varieties of choice will always be greater than any bureaucrat can think of. Ferguson is an example of that choice having their pupils from form one to four. Ferguson is fighting to keep its third and fourth formers and ACT says this school, not Ministry of Education bureaucrats, should decide which classes they take.

The fact that the parents of Ferguson's third and fourth formers are voting with their feet and keeping their children here is a testimony to why the middle school should stay open. These third and fourth formers should not be forced by the State to leave this school that is making such a difference to them.

School choice has been proven around the world. Last week the Maori Education Commission invited to New Zealand Black American Education specialist Dr Howard Fuller, one of the leading figures behind Milwaukee's parental choice programme. Milwaukee's programme is the United States first tax supported programme of private school choice. Dr Fuller came with a simple message: nothing has helped the education standards more than school choice. The major gains in achievement have been for black pupils in Milwaukee's equivalent of Otara who are now able to take their share of education funding and enrol at the school of their choice. The education standards and achievement of students have markedly improved.

When ACT raised the issue of school choice three years ago as a way of improving standards, the concept was fairly new around the world. The research now shows that the greatest gains have been made for the pupils in socio-economic areas like Otara.

We already have a limited form of school choice in New Zealand. The Targeted Individual Entitlement Scheme has been an overwhelming success. But, the parents of the few children taken into the TIE scheme each year are asking why the same opportunity hasn't been extended to every child. Why should those parents have to choose which of their children has the chance to succeed and which must remain in a second rate school.

ACT's policy will, in effect, make the TIE scheme universal. ACT says every pupil in New Zealand should have the chance to go to the school of their choice. The state schools that are performing well, like Ferguson Intermediate, have nothing to fear and everything to gain from such a scheme.

As we are spending the same per pupil, the overall cost is neutral. Choice for parents is a real plus, but the real gain from ACT's policy will be the success achieved by the children in our New Zealand schools.


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