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Mallard: Focussing on quality education

28 September 2005

Mallard: Focussing on quality education at every level

Speech to the New Zealand Post Primary Teachers Association Annual Conference, Brentwood Hotel, Wellington

Good morning everyone and thank you for inviting me to join you today.

This is the sixth occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing you as Minister of Education, and I'm tremendously proud to be here today as a representative of what looks to be a third-term Labour-led government.

In preparing to speak with you today I went back and looked at my speech notes for the first speech I gave to the PPTA as Minister of Education.

In 2000 I spoke about the importance of addressing recruitment and retention issues within the teaching profession – and in particular about the importance of making teaching a more attractive career option.

I outlined the importance I placed on the work of the School Staffing Review Group, and I talked about the important step we had taken in abolishing bulk funding. And, of course, I spoke about the tremendous challenge we had ahead of us in implementing the NCEA.

I'm very proud of what we have achieved together over the past six years. We've had our ups and downs, but I passionately believe that we are on the right track and that the gains are starting to show.

The industrial unrest early on in the first term of our government was a difficult time for us all. I'm delighted that we've been able to put that behind us and move forward into a new era of cooperation and constructive dialogue.

I want to thank all four of the PPTA presidents that I have worked with for making that a reality, but in particular I want to thank Phil Smith, who oversaw one of the smoothest negotiation rounds I can recall in the entire time I have been involved with the education sector.

The settlement we reached last year provides a sound platform for moving forward together. Working together we can achieve so much more – for evidence of that you need to look no further than the outcomes of the School Staffing Review Group.

I'm proud that during our first two terms in government, we have implemented the recommendations the SSRG made in the secondary area. Over 1,500 extra teachers over and above those required for roll growth are now in our secondary classrooms as a direct result of the collaborative approach - that's something I'm tremendously proud of.

We've also worked together to rise to the challenge of implementing the NCEA.

As a profession, you have shown tremendous commitment, professionalism, and passion in your work to implement the NCEA. Changing the entire school qualifications system was never going to be easy, but you dug deep and made it happen.

Like you, I was very disappointed to see the NCEA become a political football during the election campaign. As your president, Debbie Te Whaiti said yesterday, NCEA has unfairly become shorthand for all of the perceived problems with the secondary school system.

Teachers deserve better. Students deserve better.

And politicians have an ethical duty to act in a more responsible manner when dealing with such important issues, especially when they initiated the new system and support its continuation.

Over the next three years, restoring public confidence in our education system must be one of our highest priorities.

We have a great education system. Internationally our kids are doing really well, and we need to celebrate our successes more.

One of the things I value about the education sector is that we are all our greatest critics. We are always looking at where we can improve and where we need to do better – I hope that will always be the case.

But we also need to spend a bit more time giving credit where it is due.

I want to thank you for the hard work, dedication and passion that you put into your jobs. Don't let the knocks the education sector has taken in the past few months deter you – you're doing a vitally important job for the future wellbeing of our society and our country.

We need to look to ahead with a new sense of optimism.

An annual conference is an opportunity to do just that – to look towards the future, a future where every young New Zealander can achieve to their academic and personal potential.

Everyone here is an essential part of this future.

We need to build a system where our top students continue to do well and our underachievers get a significant lift.

Raising student achievement is the focus of our new schooling strategy.

Effective teaching, the involvement of parents and whanau in children’s learning and building on and using the evidence about what makes the biggest difference to students’ learning are the three main vehicles to do this.
Better managing and reducing teacher workload is one practical way we can support effective teaching.

The Secondary Teacher Workload Study report gave a comprehensive picture of the challenges secondary teachers face and how complex the job of teaching is in today’s world.

It was inspiring to read how motivated teachers are to do the job to the best of their ability.

There is still work to be done to address teacher workload. The workload study suggested several areas for improvement. Some are already being addressed while other work in conjunction with the PPTA will also help teachers get on with the job of teaching.

The Long Term Work Programme, set up in the collective agreement, ensures that we have a structured approach to addressing many of the pressing issues facing the secondary teaching profession.

I understand the working groups have been progressing steadily on the main planks of the Work Programme – the development of alternative career paths, professional learning opportunities and practice-based qualifications for teachers. All of which will be good for teachers and good for students.

The details for the two agreed pilots – the Specialist Classroom Teacher for every school and the Sabbaticals for Teachers programme – have been finalised and these will be getting underway in 2006.

Feedback tells us that the establishment of the Specialist Classroom Teacher role in schools is very welcome.

I have been getting regular updates about initial teacher education and I have to say I am frustrated by some of these reports.

We don’t seem to be much closer to identifying and addressing some of the issues we need to be on top of, in order to better assure the effectiveness of beginning teachers.

As you know teachers in pre-service training need a range of worthwhile teaching experiences, and associate teachers are critical here.

This is why I am pleased to see the focus of the new specialist classroom teacher role is on mentoring beginning teachers.

I am sure this will have a positive effect on these teachers and on associates’, and also on schools’ ability to welcome student teachers into their school.

Your representatives are also involved in the New Zealand Teachers Council working party to produce graduating standards for initial teacher education programmes.

This is an important project for the Teachers Council to get right.

I want these standards to raise the bar on expectations for entry standards and programme delivery.

The standards need to represent the best possible description of what a graduate teacher in New Zealand needs to know and be able to do, to begin to teach effectively.

I want these standards to reflect the kinds of teachers we need.

We need teachers who have high expectations of every student and teachers who are committed to helping their students gain the skills and knowledge they need for their own and New Zealand’s future.

A speech to your conference would seem incomplete without a more detailed mention of the NCEA and New Zealand Scholarship.

The NCEA is now fully operational. And it is only with the goodwill, hard work and support of secondary teachers that we have come this far.

The NCEA inquiry found most believe the NCEA is improving learning for students and improving teaching practice, but it also found there were areas where more work is needed.

I am pleased its recommendations are either already being or about to be addressed.

What we have now is a substantial improvement on the previous system and I know it will be even better as the recommendations are bedded in. The statistics clearly show the hard work in recent years is paying off, with: more students leaving school with higher qualifications fewer students leaving school with no qualification at all, and since 2002, more Maori and Pasifika students leaving school with university entrance or NCEA level 3 qualification.

Schools also report there are more senior secondary students in the classroom, adding to the evidence that NCEA encourages students to stay on in school longer to get a qualification.

The changes, in response to the review of scholarship, are also well under way.

Improving the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s setting, marking and quality assurance processes will ensure the variations we had last year do not happen again.

Other changes include: professional development for principals, boards of trustees and teachers improved communication with schools and parents, and more money to reward our top scholars through the New Zealand Scholarship exams.

These initiatives provide a firm foundation for the continuing improvement of scholarship.

Learning isn’t simple – not for children and not for adults. And sustaining learning and improvement is not simple either.

The encouraging thing is that quality learning is on a roll – in the classroom, within schools and at the system level.
We need a schooling system centred on effective teaching, on parent and whanau nurtured learning and evidence-based practice.

This is an ambitious task, but I think it is do-able when we work as a team at every level.

By investing time and effort we can ensure all students achieve their learning potential.

This has to be good for them and it has to be good for New Zealand as a whole.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, and thank you for your hard work, dedication, and passion over the past six years.

I look to the future with a great sense of optimism. We have faced down several old demons in the past few months and we have come out the other side still in one piece. Long may that continue.

ENDS

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