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Patrick Gower interviews Education Minister Hekia Parata

Patrick Gower interviews Education Minister Hekia Parata


Hekia Parata "interested in flexibility" that would allow schools to change opening hours and the start of the school year

Open to starting the school year in March if it leads to schools being more successful

Points to charter schools where they can change the hours of the school day in return for meeting student achievement targets

Suggests leaders of NZEI and NZ Principals' Federation may be at odds with their members over 'super teachers' policy

Minister won't rule out legislating to implement policy over top of union opposition, but hopes to find a deal through negotiation

Insists $359m flagship education reform not in trouble given backing from PPTA and because "it's a good policy"

"They need to change the governance" - Minister sends message to Kohanga Reo Trust that changes on the board are needed to restore public confidence

Says her office is a "high intensity" place to work but denies Trevor Mallard’ allegations.

Patrick Gower: Good morning Minister and you heard it there: here you have your major education policy and primary school teachers and principals don't want a bar of it. What’ going wrong?

Hekia Parata: Well I think to be accurate what they said is that a hundred of them met in Wellington this week to look at the working group report. And they have concerns about it. But look wee continuing to work with them along with the PPTA, along with Te Ranga Nui o Ng Kura Kaupapa. I think this is exactly the policy that we need to raise achievement across the board. And build a career pathway for those teachers and principals already in the system and those new graduates we want to attract.

The problem is the teachers don't want it and theye arguing effectively about a core part of it. They don't want teachers taken out of the classroom and taken somewhere else for two days a week. It’ not a minor issue; it’ a major part of it. And actually some parents won't like that as well.

Well at the heart of this initiative is how we raise achievement for every child and young person in New Zealand. So this initiative will build on the specific learning challenges of a community.

But the initiative Minister won't work if the teachers won't do it.

Well we have to go into a collective bargaining situation and that will be initiated very shortly. And then all of the members of the teacher union will have their opportunity to have a say.

If they vote against it, if they say o, we will not do this, what’ the next step?

Well the feedback I getting from teachers and principals around the country is theye very interested in this. They want professional collaboration.

The union which sits atop 30-thousand teachers doesn like it. So if the union -

Well their members will have a say.

And if their members don'tlike it either, what can you do then because youe in serious trouble of this whole policy falling over if they walk away?

Well I don think wee in that trouble at all because if you look at what the PPTA has said, which is the union for all secondary school principals, they think that it’ working really well.

And that’ great for you that they're on board but let’s look at the -

But it’ great for the kids and it’ great for the policy that they have collaborated, they have worked through the detail that they're concerned about and that opportunity has been available to the NZEI and it’ still available.

And they don like it. So what can you do, what are the options if in that collective bargaining process the teachers say no? Because you have got to be thinking about that, this is a 359-million dollar policy

And that’ right. It’ a good policy and it’ about how we grow expertise across the system, which teachers have asked for. How we fund collaboration, which teachers have asked for. How we use the data about what children need what.

How do you get it through? We know all the good parts. How do you get it through if the union says no?

Ensuring that well look, this isn't about a union per se, this is about kids getting a better education; it’ about parents getting the best teachers in their classroom.

Is it just unions being unions; is that what you're saying? Or have the unions got real concerns because if the teachers aren't on board you can't do it minister.

Well if I can quote what the president of the New Zealand Principals Federation said of the meeting they had earlier this week that you are quoting; he said it was only a hundred people in the room. They can't tell others what to do. We need to go out and see what their members want. And that’ what I want as well.

Are they playing politics here? Are the unions playing politics?

Well that’ something youl have to ask them because what wee focused on-

I'm asking you, because that’ what youe saying to me. Youe saying to me that a hundred unionists in the room have one view, out there in wider teacher land they don't.

Again, I'm quoting what they themselves have said. What I'm saying is this is a good policy, it’ evidence based, at the heart of it is how we raise achievement for every New Zealand child. How do we keep the best teachers in the classroom? How do we get the best principals to the schools that need them the most?

They don't like taking teachers out of the classroom. That is the problem.

Well perhaps we need to have a look for instance at Pegasus Bay school which was opened just this week where there is team teaching. Our idea of what a classroom is, what you and I learnt, is completely different from the way education is going now. Our kids are learning in team teaching environments.

If we got to a point where the unions don't want to move on this, would you be prepared to legislate to implement this?

Look I think we're at a very early stage in this process; we have had three months of consultation.

Can you rule that out though, legislating at some point to get this past the teachers unions?

I think the benefits of this policy

Can you rule it out or not minister?

I aware that youe wanting a yes or no answer, but it’ much more complex than that. And this is about how we raise achievement.

But it’s not complex if the teachers union says so, we won't implement your flagship policy. And your option is to legislate.

Well what I'm saying is we are yet to go into bargaining. The Secretary of Education will be initiating bargaining in the next short while. Then the NZEI will go around to its members.

So in that kind of trade-off, what might you have to trade off in that collective bargaining? What might they get, a pay rise?

Well I'mnot going to negotiate that here because that’ what the Secretary of Education legally has to do. But in terms of consulting and in terms of ensuring the members of the teacher unions understand what is proposed. The first part of it is there is a working group report which had the president of the NZEI on it, which had the president of the NZPF on it.

Speaking of reports, you received a taskforce report this week on the regulations around school timing and hours, what’ your personal view on that? Should schools have more flexibility in terms of setting the school day and setting the holidays they have during the year?

So I'm very interested in how we give more flexibilities to schools because they can make choices with their parent community about what works for their community. It’ one of the reasons I commissioned the taskforce. The report has literally just landed on my desk and I will be reading it. But to give an example of how interested we are in flexibilities, in last year’ Education Amendment Bill we make it flexible for schools to be able to develop their own timetabling. We learnt this out of Christchurch that you actually could have different hours, you could share schools, you could share teachers, you could share resources and learning would be improved.

So we can assume that you're interested in letting schools change their hours and times?

I'm interested in having a range of flexibilities that allow schools to make choices that will lead to measurable learning outcomes.

So could that include changing the school year in some schools?

Oh look, the report’ only just arrived. I havent yet read it. I've got to discuss it with my Cabinet. But just to say in principle, absolutely interested in flexibilities. Indeed if you have a look at the contracts for the five partnership schools, they have the flexibilities to set their hours of teaching and learning and their school term. But in return they are contracted to deliver achievement outcomes.

So are you personally open to schools being able to say for instance change to starting the year in March?

Well schools already have flexibilities for that now. They already have a range of dates between which they choose.

Would you like to see schools do that and move to outside of summer?

I want schools to be successful, so I happy to entertain what flexibilities that will allow that occur.

And that includes a school year starting in March when the weather’ not so hot?

Well that’ only one of the flexibilities. Another one is shared teaching. Another one is shared resources. Another one is data across a community of schools, so they can understand how do we pool our resources to grow reading and writing and science and maths.

Turning now to the Kohanga Reo, cleared this week by the SFO, but let’ face it, nearly a 100-million bucks a year of taxpayers' money and you're got people running around in that place, whacking the plastic and buying wedding dresses. Is it good enough?

No it’ not good enough.

So what’ going to happen?

So, the SFO has cleared the trust of criminal offending but said that there is still issues with governance and management.

Do you want people on that board to go?

Ah look, that is an independent trust but what I have said to them, and I have said it in writing and well as in person, that they need to change the governance, it needs to be transparent, representative, democratic and accountable. And that’ the process.

Yes or no answer on this: Do you think you need changes on that board to restore public confidence?

Oh we do need change but that’ for the board’ members to make that decision.

Moving now to those allegations by Trevor Mallard made under parliamentary privilege. What did you make of those?

Well there’ absolutely no truth to them whatsoever.

Because we see today that another senior private secretary has left your office

She’ been promoted.

That’ good for her


But you've lost six of those. And for people at home, that’ effectively the boss of your office.

No, that’ not true at all. I don't want to debate those issues. That isn't true.

Six people have been in and out of that office.

Well that’ over three years in an office that has high intensity. And by the way, theye all been promoted.

What is high intensity?

Well first of all, getting us focused on achievement in education, data.

So your office is a good place to work Minister?

I'd be very happy for you to interview anyone in my office.

Thank you very much Minister for your time.


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