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The Nation: Lisa Owen talks to Nikki Kaye

On The Nation: Lisa Owen talks to Nikki Kaye
Education Minister Nikki Kaye says Auckland is about 300 teachers short, but she’s ruled out ‘Auckland weighting’, paying teachers more to take jobs in the city.
Kaye says a significant amount of money has been put into creating places for 21,000 more students by 2021, and she‘s confident they can keep up with demand. But she concedes that in some cases the actual building of approved classrooms isn’t moving fast enough.
Kaye says the current decile system will be scrapped, but an alternative needs to be found. “The technical advisory group have done some great work. I’m working through with my colleagues around the policy. I hope to have an update before the election.”

Lisa Owen: Auckland’s booming population is creating a long list of problems for local and central government. The housing shortage and crippling traffic are well known. But also under increasing pressure are the region’s schools. This week, Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced which Auckland schools would get extra classrooms from money put aside in May’s Budget. But is that enough? Well, Nikki Kaye joins me now in the studio. Good morning.
Nikki Kaye: Good morning.
You’ve announced 21 million for 41 classrooms. But I’m wondering, given the population projections, is that going to be anywhere near enough?
Well, that’s on top of about 400 million that we’ve announced over the last couple of years. So you’ve got to understand we’ve got 21,000 student places in the pipeline. So this is on top of a big investment.
So what are the role projections? How much are they going to increase every year?
Yeah. So what we’re doing is we’re working through an Auckland plan over a 30-year period. That’s anywhere from 60,000 to 100,000, so we will need to spend a lot more. In this budget, we’ve actually allocated – and a lot of people haven’t picked it up – 4.85 billion for school property over a four-year period. So there’s lots more funds, and we’ve done more than ever before to work out where those classrooms need to go.
Because when you look at the maths, I still can’t see how it adds up, because you’re promising an extra 5000 places a year for students over the next four years, which is the 21,000 that you’ve just talked about, in Auckland.
So the 21,000 goes from the commitment in 2014 right through to— I think it’s 2023.
But the thing is if you look at Auckland figures alone, they say there’s going to be an extra 110,000 students by 2040. So you’re kind of running to keep up, aren’t you?
Well, look, I think, when you look at those figures, what they say is that’s the high growth projection. It’s anywhere— I think 60,000 to 100,000 is the general average. We’ve got a lot of work going on behind the scenes where we’ve done geospatial mapping of particular sites. We’re looking at land acquisition. So I’m very confident we’re going to be able to get there. What we promised in 2014 was that we would build these 17,000 student spaces. That gets ahead of the average population growth per year. But we’re going to need to continue to wrap this up to be able to deliver, if there are 100,000 young people coming.
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s about flow, isn’t it?
Because you might be doing the planning, but the buildings aren’t there yet, and the classrooms aren’t there yet for a number of schools.
Well, a number of them are there, because I don’t have enough time to cut the ribbons that actually exist across New Zealand, because we put so much money into school buildings. But I think what is important – you can see in some schools that they’ve been over capacity, and I’ve said to the Ministry we need to do a lot better in terms of looking at what the real-time situation is in terms of schools. We only get twice yearly role returns. And you’ve got quite a complex range of things happening. Some schools accept out-of-zone children. You’ve also got Board-owned property. So there will be changes to the system to make sure we better understand what’s happening at a real time.
So are you saying that you’re not keeping track of the numbers as quickly as you would like to?
Well, what I’m saying is we’ve always had a system whereby we’ve left that up to schools, but I think when you’ve looked at these situations where we have had, you know, schools under pressure, I think we need to consider changing the system to make sure that we’re much more responsive in the short term, where you have a fluctuation that you don’t expect. But the answer for choice, in terms of those schools being allowed to accept out-of-zone children, means that sometimes you will have schools that are slightly over capacity.
Well, we’ve been talking to a few schools this week, and teachers are working in libraries and staffrooms. They’re in prefabs that don’t have running water. We spoke to one school that is 150 students over capacity. We know that 40 schools in Auckland are already over capacity, and 127 are at risk of overcrowding. Is that the ideal learning environment?
Well, I think if we go back to each of those situations and we look at them with detail, the first thing that you’ll find is a number of them are taking out-of-zone children. So that’s part of the reason. The thing that I would say, though, why I have confidence in terms of health and safety is that under the law, no school— We have a very generous property entitlement compared to other countries, so that overcapacity is just a trigger for a growth conversation. We do need to do better, Lisa—
So are you saying that it’s not an occupational health and safety issue, so it’s okay?
No. I’m saying that we need to do a couple of things – both ensure there are no health and safety issues; but also build ahead. And that’s why we’ve got the largest capital ever upgrade programme in our nation’s history. We are spending hundreds of millions, and we will end up spending billions retrofitting Auckland for the future. When we came into government, Lisa, we were handed leaky buildings, school buildings that were 40 years old. I’m very confident we’ve both reformed the system, and we’re spending the investment required to get ahead of growth.
But the question still is on the table – is that ideal learning conditions? What I’ve just described, which are real examples that schools have given us this week.
No, they’re not. And that’s why we look at each individual situation, and that’s why we need to look at, I think, how we’re getting more real-time data from schools so that we can assist them or look at the policy settings and if they need to change.
We spoke to one school that said it’s operating out of prefabs and that they got approval for new classrooms last year, but they haven’t heard from the Ministry since and nothing has happened.
Well, I’m going to follow up directly on that school, so—
We know they’re not alone. They’re not the only ones who said this, so I’m wondering what’s holding things up, what’s holding the flow up?
Well, again, I’d have to look at each of those individual schools, because my experience of 2500 schools in New Zealand is you do sometimes get situations that go wrong, and those situations, we try and rectify that. But in other situations, there may be a range of other discussions going on in terms of they want to spend money from their 5YA budget; we offer money for new growth—
So you would accept, in some cases, movement is too slow?
Yes, I do. I have found situations. But overall, I think the Ministry’s come a long way, and overall, I’m very confident that we will be the government that has invested ahead and future-proofed areas like Auckland.
Well, the problems aren’t just bricks and mortar, are they? They’re people too. And the thing is with teachers, I think starting salaries range from 47,000 to 50 grand, depending on whether it’s primary or secondary. And we know that half the teachers that you do attract leave within the first five years of teaching. How do you fix that?
Well, I think there’s a couple of things going on. The first is we need to make sure that the conditions are very good for teachers in New Zealand. And I think the introduction of Communities of Learning – we know that offers other career pathways. The other thing that I would point out is when you look at the overall number of teachers, we’ve actually seen attrition drop. So I think there’s about 100,000 teachers in New Zealand. Part of the issue that we have is in certain geographical locations—
How many are you short, though? How many teachers are you short?
We’re short in particular areas. So take Auckland, we’ve got 20,000-odd teachers, but we’ve got about a 1.5% vacancy rate.
So in real numbers, how much is that?
It’s about 300.
So you’re short 300 teachers in Auckland alone?
But the question is for any workforce, Lisa, you expect movement. So that wouldn’t be necessarily unusual for any workforce. So the question is how do you make sure that those vacancies are filled as quick as possible. We’ve announced a range of initiatives, from the Teach First programme – $5 million that I announced the other day – to converting provisional teachers to full registration teachers to enable more teachers in the pool. So we’ve got a range of initiatives happening, but I have asked the Ministry, we need to have a workforce development strategy so that we look much longer ahead.
So are you considering, or will you consider, paying for teachers who are living in expensive areas like Auckland – because you know that some principals are subsidising accommodation for teachers – will you look at that?
We’re not looking at weighting for Auckland. But what we have done is we’ve invested additional funds for those schools in Auckland who may need to provide further support around mentoring and further support for Auckland teachers. So there is additional funds going into the Auckland system, but it’s not going to be via salaries. And the reason for that is particular areas will change—
But you’re saying you want to attract them and you want to make it attractive. You know the price of housing in Auckland. And they cannot attract people. One school we spoke to said they had two vacancies, they got seven applications, and no one had had the level of experience required for that position.
Well, again, I think if you look at what we’re doing, so through the Teach First programme we are providing additional funding so that we can weight that towards Auckland teachers. We’re also providing The Beginning Teachers Project in Auckland. We’re also, through Communities of Learning, providing additional remuneration. So for those people who choose to be an across school teacher—
So are you doing all you can?
Well, no, we’ll continue to do more. I am interested in doing more. In part, if we do have a decent workforce strategy, then I think we can look much earlier about the geographical areas where we need to invest.
Okay. We spoke to a school who recently had a ratio of 36 kids to one teachers. Now, if you do the maths, that’s about eight minutes of face time with a teacher a day. What do you think it should be?
Well, the first point I’d made is it’s up to schools to decide how they want to rearrange their classrooms, and it varies right across—
But if they don’t have the teachers or the space, though, some of them are forced to accommodate that.
It varies right across New Zealand. The reality is that you’ve got to take into account there’s lots of different types—
So what’s the optimum? What’s the optimum? If those kids are getting eight minutes a day, if they’re lucky, with their teacher, what would you want it to be?
Well, the optimum is that every young person is learning, and that very much differs depending on the young person. We announced this week a digital fluency package of $40 million. We know there’s more self-directive learning occurring. But absolutely we want young people to have quality teacher time. And the model varies. If you go across New Zealand schools, as I do, I come into classrooms for which you’ve got three teachers roaming with 100 children. I come into other classrooms for which they’ve got 15 children. Schools look and work out what the needs are of those children.
But it brings us a full circle, doesn’t it, Minister? If you have kids in prefabs that don’t have running water, or old, dilapidated classrooms, they’re overcrowded and they’re not getting one-on-one time with the teacher, that’s not really optimum learning conditions, is it?
But that’s not the true picture of the whole of New Zealand. The reality is we spent $5 billion—
It’s the reality for a number of schools.
It may be for some schools, but the reality is for most of New Zealand, we have undertaken the largest ever upgrade of school property—
For those ones who are facing those problems— That’s great for the other schools, but for the ones who are facing those problems, they’re thinking it’s not happening fast enough.
And that’s why we look at each individual case and we do everything we can to rectify that where that’s possible. But if you look at the bigger picture, the utilisation for New Zealand of all of school property has actually gone down. With 30,000 more children overall, it’s actually gone down. So that investment that we have put in overall is definitely making a difference, and we’ve got 4.85 billion to come.
We’re running out of time. I just want to cover off a couple of issues quickly. Deciles – are you committed to replacing them?
Well, look, I’ve said I am not a fan of deciles. I think it’s totally wrong that they basically label schools on the income of parents and postcodes.
So you would get rid of them?
Well, the main thing is if you’re going to get rid of something, you’ve got to have something to replace it, and the technical advisory group have done some great work. I’m working through with my colleagues around the policy. I hope to have an update before the election.
The thing is, as you say, you have to replace it with something, and won’t anything that you replace it with be used as a proxy to judge quality of the school?
Well, not necessarily. It depends the way that you do it. Because, remember, what we’re trying to do here is, in terms of deciles—
Do you think you can develop a system where parents wouldn’t be able to choose based on that?
I think it’s possible. And I think it’s important, because when I go into some decile 1 schools, some of the children say to me they feel that they do get labelled. So that’s one of the reasons why that would be my ideal – would be that the system goes. But we’ve got to be able to replace it with something.
We’re out of time, but I want to quickly ask – have you thought about paying schools bonuses based on their results? Is that something under consideration or you would consider?
Absolutely not?
It’s not under consideration.
Okay. Thanks for joining us, Nikki Kaye.
Thank you.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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