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Speech: Anne Tolley School Trustees Association

New Zealand School Trustees Association Conference
Venue: Christchurch Convention Centre
Time: 2:30pm

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā hau e whā. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Good afternoon everyone and thank you to Lorraine Kerr and Pio Terei, MC for your warm welcome.

And thank you for the invitation to speak with you today.

I welcome the opportunity to share the Government’s initiatives to lift achievement, particularly in reading, writing and maths; to keep young people engaged in learning at school; and to enable every single young New Zealander to get the qualifications they need to succeed in life.

The School Trustees Association – and individual school boards – play a vital role in this.

And I want to begin by acknowledging, and thanking, you all as trustees, whether new or returning. You have been prepared to give your time, your energy and your expertise to make sure our schools work for our young New Zealand students.

You certainly don’t do it for the money.

But the rewards are huge – for our students, for parents and for our country.

I’m sure it won’t have escaped your notice that we’re experiencing an exciting – and it has to be said – challenging time in education at the moment as this new Government works to lift student achievement for all students, but particularly for those who have been left behind for too many years.

And it’s fitting that as the School Trustees Association comes of age celebrating its 21st birthday, you are prepared to step up and tell New Zealand that boards of trustees have the responsibility for running schools and that the boards are very much in control.

And for a great example of stepping up, you should look no further than your President, Lorraine Kerr.

Lorraine is in her fourth year at the helm, and has been a school trustee for all of the 21 years since self-managing schools were introduced.

Lorraine is well-known for her calm, common-sense approach. But she is also a formidable woman, as many in the education sector have been finding out recently.

Despite some pretty horrible personal attacks Lorraine has refused to budge from her position. That is, parents, communities and school boards are entitled to good information on the progress being made by students. And I know this view is shared by the Association.

I want to acknowledge the effort that Lorraine and your Association continue to put in, to ensure that the voices of parents are heard by principals and teachers.

I can guarantee you this Government won’t flinch from our priority, that every child achieves literacy and numeracy levels that enable their success.

We want every single young New Zealander to reach their potential.

Which is why National Standards were introduced at the start of this school year.

By international comparisons our top-performing students are doing well. And that’s wonderful news and a great credit to you and your staff.

But those same comparisons show that the gap between our highest and lowest performing students is among the widest in the OECD – and getting wider.

It is simply unacceptable that our schooling system allows up to one in five of our young people to go out into the world without the reading, writing and maths skills that they need.

The sector, and politicians, have been talking about addressing this so-called “tail of underachievement” for the last ten years. And nothing has changed. Right now, up to 20 per cent of our children are being failed, and if we keep doing the same things – we will continue to get the same results.

This Government decided the time for talking was over.

National Standards are simply benchmarks for what a child should be expected to do and understand in reading, writing and maths at each year level. That’s all. It’s not a new test.

They’re designed so that teachers and parents can spot problems early and identify what needs to be done to help children make progress.

The Government is providing an extra $36 million to support schools with this.

And the Standards have been set at levels that will ensure that by meeting those Standards students are on course to reach at least Level 2 NCEA.

And let’s not forget the Standards were designed by experts, based on existing literacy and numeracy evidence and following consultation with over 11,000 educators, parents, family members and, of course, the NZSTA.

And parents, who we know are the silent majority in all this, are delighted with the plain language reports they’re starting to get on their child’s progress, which also give advice on the next steps for the teacher and parents.

Now, the education sector doesn’t react very well to change, especially coming from a National Government.

Some would have you believe the sky is falling – well they’re wrong.

I can assure you, and you will be well aware, that the vast majority of schools are getting on with the task of implementing the Standards in a professional manner.

And don’t just take my word for it. Parents, principals and teachers have been sharing their views with me.

A principal emailed to say: “Despite our original misgivings it has been a thoroughly positive experience both for the school and parents, who are extremely grateful for a plain English report, and for the suggestions on how they can help.”

From a parent and teacher: “It’s a great system. I was impressed by my child’s report. My daughter is below the Standard – but this has given us a focus as a family on how we can support her.”

Another parent emailed to say she was furious that she wasted several crucial years being told by a school that her daughter “will catch up when she is ready”, and was “a really nice kid” only to find out much later how serious her learning disability was. This parent asks, “How on earth can any professional teacher object to having a national standard, and object to parents being aware of these? It will help parents such as ourselves understand our child’s progress in a way that makes sense.”

So you can see it’s not about labelling children, but identifying those young students that need extra support.

And finally, from a secondary teacher: “Good on you – keep up the good work! Hopefully, in a few years, we will get students coming through in Year 9 who do not have massive holes in their numeracy and literacy.”

And that’s just a selection of the comments I’ve received.

To make sure parents have as much information as possible I’d like to take this opportunity to officially launch a new poster which has been sent to all primary and intermediate schools. It provides a snapshot of what a child’s progress should look like, and can be used by teachers when discussing a child’s learning with their parents. It is a strong, visual addition to the many other resources available, and I’m advised the Ministry has already received hundreds of requests for extra copies.

We will make sure we get this right. Our children deserve nothing less.

There is a three-year monitoring and evaluation programme being run by the Ministry, and trustees can continue to have input into that. In fact, I encourage you to do so.

I’ve also appointed an expert independent advisory group which reports to me with free and frank advice on the implementation. And as I keep saying to the sector, if we need to make changes, we will make them.

It’s also important that boards, principals and teachers are well-equipped to work with the Standards. That’s why the Government has invested $26 million in professional development training.

The feedback from most of the sessions has been positive, but I am aware of some concerns about variability of training, and the depth of knowledge of some trainers, and I’ve told the Ministry to monitor the training closely, to augment with practitioners, and to make sure any concerns continue to be addressed.

Some principals have chosen not to attend these optional sessions, which I think is nothing more than politicking.

My grandmother would have described it as “cutting off their nose to spite their face”.

But the only losers if schools don’t take advantage of free training are the children themselves, because you will have to augment their training with funds from your operating accounts to be sure you are implementing the standards well enough for your students.

We don’t expect every school to get this 100 per cent right straight away. But we do expect that parents should receive the information they want on progress against the Standards – and indeed how a child is doing in all the curriculum areas.

Remember, schools don’t have to report information to the Ministry and their communities until 2012.

And if the Ministry doesn’t receive that information then there is no chance that your school will benefit from the additional resources – and you will have to answer to your communities.

An Education Review Office report into reading and writing in years 1 and 2, released in December, showed that some school leaders are ignoring achievement information that does not show positive results, or do not give the information to boards of trustees and school communities.

This is worrying because parents want the information, and you, as trustees need the information. Your Boards are investing millions of dollars of community and taxpayer money into literacy and numeracy programmes, and need to know how effective they are.

The Standards, and the information collected, should make sure you are able to invest more wisely, in programmes which you know are successful for students.

I expect some of you will be having some robust conversations with your staff over this issue and will also be aware of some of the misinformation and scaremongering being spread about the Standards.

My advice to you, as representatives of crown entities, is be aware of the facts. Stand firm. Schools should not be used as political platforms for those opposed to Government policy. Seek advice from your President.

And if you have to, remind your communities that the school belongs to them, to your children and to their parents, not to unions or federations.

This Government is ambitious for all of the country’s children.

We are determined to raise the bar for achievement for every single student in this country.

New Zealand’s education system is among the best in the world. But at the same time, it leaves too many students behind.

Our secondary schooling system currently works very well for students who are well suited to academic study.

It doesn’t always work so well for students who are better suited to practical, hands-on learning and qualifications.

Too many of these students are disengaging from education and leaving school without qualifications.

We have to make our system more relevant to the 16 and 17 year olds who currently disengage from school.

The Youth Guarantee is about providing more and better education options for all young New Zealanders. Providing innovative training and education opportunities that support these students to gain the qualifications and skills they need

This year, there are 2,000 places available in vocational courses for 16 and 17 year olds, free of charge, enabling them to get level 1 to 3 qualifications for the career of their choice.

Next year and in following years, this will increase to 2,500 places, thanks to funding in Budget 2010.

Six Trades Academies will open next year, giving Years 11 to 13 students a head-start in training for industry-related qualifications.

And in February this year the Tertiary Education Minister and I opened the Manukau Institute of Technology School of Tertiary-Secondary studies.

This groundbreaking model of secondary/tertiary education enables students to be dual enrolled at their school and at MIT, working towards a mix of secondary and tertiary qualifications.

Longer term, the Youth Guarantee will provide a whole range of alternative pathways for senior secondary students.

I want it to be much easier for young people to move between secondary and tertiary learning. I want to see all 16 and 17 year olds have access to a programme of study that doesn’t have fees, that meets their needs, and that leads to a worthwhile, nationally recognised qualification.

This will mean challenges to the funding and structure of senior secondary schooling – as we focus on student needs and not “the system”.

And I would encourage you to provide feedback.

One of a board’s key roles is to manage the resources delivered by government and to decide how best to spend its money to get the best possible results for our students.

I have been clear since I took up the role of Education Minister that I want to see as much as possible of these resources going straight to schools, not tied up in backroom bureaucracy.

I believe that schools and communities are best placed to know how to use their resources.

Despite these times of ongoing fiscal restraint, Budget 2010 allocated an extra $1.4 billion to education over the next four years, with Total Vote Education spending rising to $12 billion in the coming year.

For school boards, this means additional money for training for new trustees. For the whole schooling sector, it means a 4 per cent increase in operational funding, or an additional $156 million over four years.

We’ve also made a significant investment in school infrastructure.

$350 million in the Budget for new operating and capital funding over four years for school property. This includes funding for building new schools and improving existing school buildings, and comes on top of Government funding of more than $500 million as part of Budget 2009.

There’s $82 million towards remedial work on leaky school buildings, an issue which is going to have a serious financial impact for years to come. I’m dismayed the previous Government did little to address such a well-publicised problem, and left us with very little information on the real state of our buildings. So we are spending $22 million over the next two years to quantify just how much rebuilding we’re facing.

There’s $40 million over four years to reduce surplus school property – starting with the unsightly school buildings abandoned in communities, attracting vandalism and graffiti.

Over $48 million to continue the School Network Upgrade Project. Last week I announced the next 239 schools which are to receive Government subsidies to prepare for ultra-fast broadband. And we’re extending the National Education Network trial to up to 500 schools.

We’ve also invested more money into the Positive Behaviour for Learning Action Plan, to expand the training and delivery of programmes. This cross-sector plan, developed last year, aims to reduce truancy and disruptive behaviour, increase engagement, and ultimately lift achievement.

So you can see how serious this Government is about education.

We believe every single young New Zealander deserves the very best.

And as trustees, your role in making sure this happens cannot be underestimated

20,000 men and women across the country, from all kinds of backgrounds, have stepped up to devote their time and energy to leading our schools.

On your 21st anniversary, I want to thank and congratulate every one of you.

Working together we can ensure that our education system delivers for all of our children.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, huri noa te ruma, kia ora mai tatou katoa.

ENDS

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