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Step Change: Success The Only Option

Step Change: Success The Only Option

Hon Heather Roy, Hekia Parata MP, Te Ururoa Flavell MP joint speech to launch the report of the Inter-Party Working Group on School Choice; Parliament; Tuesday, February 16 2010.

Hon Heather Roy - ACT New Zealand Deputy Leader and Inter-Party Working Group Chair
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

It's a great pleasure for me and my National, ACT and Maori Party colleagues to welcome you here today for the launch of 'Step Change: Success the Only Option' - the report of the Inter-Party Working Group for School Choice.

The greatest legacy that parents can leave their children is to prepare them to succeed in the world that they will inherit. This world is characterised by rapid, continuous change and increasing complexity and ambiguity. The successful citizen not only needs a broad range of skills, knowledge and experience but also well refined tools for continuous self-learning.

Recognition of the Government's role in achieving this was the key driver, in 2008, behind the Parties represented here today pledging to broaden school choice and raise student achievement. It was a natural progression of those electoral promises for this Inter-Party Working Group to become a cornerstone feature of the National-ACT Confidence & Supply Agreement.

I wish to take a moment, at this point, to introduce and acknowledge the members of the Working Group, which was established in April last year. The Group consisted of National MPs Hekia Parata, Chester Borrows, and Jonathan Young; Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell; and ACT MPs Sir Roger Douglas and me as Chair. The team was ably supported by Paul Henderson and Sarah Clark.

Our mission was to report on policy options for funding and regulation of schools in order to increase parental choice and school autonomy. For the past year we have reviewed current practice in New Zealand, and best practice overseas. We complemented our research with visits to schools around the country.

As I'm sure that you can imagine, six MPs from three Parties who have only recently formed a Government, can make for some challenging debates! That is even before a subject about which every one of us is passionate about - education - is put on the table. I believe that it is that same passion that makes all parents the most effective arbiters of what is best for their child. As Professor John Hattie, in his 2009 book, 'Visible Learning' noted:

"Across all home variables, parental aspirations and expectations for children's educational achievement has the strongest relationship with achievement."

While the group reached agreement on many points, it is not unusual, given the range of issues addressed, that some strongly held views were not shared across all Parties. As a result, the work of the Inter-Party Working Group has been put into two reports. The first is titled 'Step Change: Success the Only Option' and is supported by all members of the group. The second is titled 'Free to Learn', and will be released by Sir Roger Douglas and me soon.

Hekia and Te Ururoa will be addressing you shortly on some of the detail of the Report and I don't wish to pre-empt them. However, I do intend to highlight the main recommendations of the report.

'Step Change: Success the Only Option' acknowledges that better educational outcomes are possible for all students. The principles underpinning this report are:

* Choice: for students to develop a personal learning plan and for them to choose a learning provider who will meet their needs, interests and goals.
* Flexibility: for providers to expand and find staff, curricula and pedagogies that match student needs.
* Quality: that is reflected in school leadership, teaching, content and student performance outcomes.
* Accountability: that sees providers measured by outcomes pertaining to student success and satisfaction.

Although our student achievement at higher levels of literacy and numeracy compares favourably with other countries, our students still perform poorly at the lower percentiles.

'Step Change' focuses on the 20 percent of students who are currently failing, and the five percent who are gifted and talented - those the Group deems to be most in need and not being served by the current education system.

The report recommends an eight-step programme, emphasising the four principles - choice, flexibility, quality and accountability - to improve outcomes for these students. Most importantly, it emphasises the needs of the student through a personalised learning pathway.

How this is to be implemented is the work of a Task Force that we recommend the Minister of Education to appoint now, with the intent of having the report's proposals ready for implementation in the 2011 school year.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the interesting, productive and rewarding experience of working across the three Parties. Each MP brought different priorities and concerns to the table. Despite these differences, we have worked effectively towards a common goal and arrived at a point of agreement that we believe will raise the level of student achievement at both ends of the spectrum.

As Anthony Robbins noted:

"Don't be afraid of new ideas. Be afraid of old ideas. They keep you where you are and stop you from growing and moving forward. Concentrate on where you want to go, not on what you fear."

Thank you. I will now hand over to Hekia Parata.

Hekia Parata MP - National
The quality of our education expands and improves our life choices. Those life choices - good and bad - have an impact on the individual, their family, community, and ultimately our society. Ensuring an excellent education for all our school students is therefore a critical personal and public investment.

Learning to read, write, and count as part of an integrated New Zealand Curriculum will provide a strong and enduring education platform. Excellent teaching will deliver it.

The best New Zealand students rank with the best students internationally. The majority of our kids do well in our schools. One in five does not. One in three Maori and Pacific Island students are failing. These are urgent warning signals to a caring and cohesive society; an economy ambitious for growth; and a shared aspiration for higher standards of living for all.

The proposal of the Inter-Party Working Group recognizes that there is unrealized potential across the education system; that failure is occurring within schools and across deciles; that personalized learning plans and targeted support will help address both.

Our proposal draws on both international and domestic research and experience, and on the best initiatives being implemented around the world. It is directed at 6-16 year olds and engages a real, practical, and resourced partnership between the student, their home and learning provider.

Our proposal focuses on measurable student achievement and rewarding success.

The Inter Party Working Party, with representatives from National, ACT and the Maori Party, have achieved common accord on this proposal, reflecting our unity of purpose, and conviction that this initiative will be make a difference to the lowest 20 percent and the highest 5 percent, and in so doing point the way for the system as a whole.

We strongly commend this report and its recommendations to the Minister of Education.

Te Ururoa Flavell MP - Maori Party
The Maori Party is pleased to support this report along with National and ACT Parties.

The working group has devoted considerable time to fully debating the issues and has been aware just how significant the issue of school choice is.

The crisis in addressing Maori under-achievement in particular in general stream schools is an issue that the nation cannot walk away from. The "same old, same old", "been there done that" approach cannot continue. The report provides some levers for future work to address that crisis.

Our focus throughout this review has been to ensure that the disadvantaged are not used to advantage those already blessed with privilege.

The report fully documents the plight of the roughly 20% of students are not only failing but continuing to fall; a significant proportion of whom are Maori.
We would hope that this 20 percent will receive at least the same, and arguably much greater resources than the five percent of students who are gifted and talented.

An Education and Science Select Committee inquiry over a year ago gave us a good lead about some of the causes for the 20% tail of underachievement. Those causes rest in a number of areas, such as educational leadership, effective teachers, whanau support and the learner themselves.

Any strategy then to address this must be on an all fronts approach. What we know is that just as the causes of under-achievement are notoriously complex, so too, our interventions must be just as diverse.

And I want to make it quite clear that the urgent need to address the way in which institutions of the state have failed our Maori children is a challenge that all educational institutions must address. That is why the Maori Party Policy (He aha te me nui) promoted the concept of cultural competence. In this report we note cultural competency is seen as essential in underpinning successful learner-teacher relationships.

We support teaching environments which promote a holistic view of education and where teacher expectations and pedagogies focus on fulfilling the potential of every child.

We support ongoing performance improvement and the capacity for teachers to be self-reflective and self-analytical about the difference they are making.

Where we would be concerned is where competition drives the educational environment; where institutions minimise treaty obligations and neutralise the push towards cultural competency, and the best interests of each child and their community are sacrificed to cater to market demand.

In conclusion we cannot forget those who are achieving and push them harder.

The mentoring approach set out in the report is not a new approach but will be a bold approach which if implemented could make a significant impact.

There are some innovative practices in our schools and education systems that are proven to work. The Māori Party's approach is that if they confront the crisis in Māori under-achievement, they should be given their wings to fly.

We support the recommendation, therefore that a more comprehensive investigation take place that might lead to practical implementation, and we endorse the recommendation that the Minister establish a Taskforce with responsibility for establishing this initiative as soon as possible.

Finally, the policy platform of choice must not enable schools any opportunity to continue to fail Maori students. Failure is not a viable option.


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