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Speech: Tolley - Principals’ Federation conference

Hon Anne Tolley
Minister of Education

9 April 2011 Speech

New Zealand Principals’ Federation conference, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington.

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā hau e whā. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa. Kia Orana, Talofa lava. Taloha Ni, Fakaalofa lahi atu, Ni sa bula vinaka, Malo e lelei.

Good morning everyone.

It’s now more than six weeks since a devastating earthquake struck Christchurch. It didn’t just change the physical landscape - it also altered the education landscape.

I’ve seen for myself the heart-breaking damage – and the sheer scale of it demanded swift decisions and out of the box thinking from everyone in the education sector.

It was extremely important that we got children back into education routines as soon as possible.

I was hugely impressed by the dedication and determination of principals, teachers, board members and Ministry of Education staff working to get schools open for students – despite personal grief and adversity.

Badly damaged schools quickly found solutions to get up and running, including sharing sites and bringing in relocatable classrooms. I’d like to thank everyone for their efforts.

I also want to thank those of you who have enrolled, and made so welcome, students from Christchurch – as well as the many schools that made generous offers of support.

The earthquake showed the need for a flexible education system that can deal with both foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges.

While no one can predict an earthquake, we know your schools face challenges every day – whether it’s keeping all students engaged and achieving, or dealing with disruptive behaviour.

Let me first address what is a very live issue. I’m deeply concerned by recent media reports showing disturbing violent attacks by bullies and the impact on their victims.

This has raised questions in the minds of parents and the public regarding the safety of our schools.

While the footage has mostly involved teenagers – bullying is by no means only a problem for secondary schools.

Bullying – in whatever form – is damaging for children. It impacts on their wellbeing and consequently their learning.

I’m also aware these issues most often have their origin outside the school gate, but need to be addressed inside it.

This Government will not tolerate bullying in our schools.

We want schools to be places where positive behaviour and learning thrive, and students feel safe. We want to ensure school leaders and teachers have the skills and confidence they need to address and prevent challenging behaviour.

I am confident that schools are proactive in their approach to bullying.

However, this week I wrote to all boards of trustees outlining the expectation that all students can learn in a safe physical and emotional environment.

I ask that you work with your boards to review policies and procedures to make sure they address new technologies and changing circumstances, and that the policies and procedures are effective. It is also important that you talk to your students and parents.

The Government is investing $60 million in the Positive Behaviour for Learning plan, developed by the Ministry and eight education sector groups, including NZPF, following the Behaviour Summit in 2009.

During the next three years, staff from 400 schools will receive training in how to promote positive behaviour and lift student engagement as part of the school-wide programme, and more than 7000 teachers will be trained in effective classroom management.

Other support for schools we’ve put in place includes a new Rapid Response Service following the most extreme behaviour incidents, and an Intensive Behaviour Service to target the most complex and challenging students.

We are transforming the Resource Teacher Learning Behaviour service, so it delivers more support to schools and students. And we are considering combining Supplementary Learning Support with the RTLB service, with stronger governance and management, and better targeting of the available resources.

Families also have an important role to play, and more than 15,000 parents in at-risk families will be supported to build more positive relationships with their children. Parents also need to take responsibility – not just leave it all to schools.

I’m working with the Ministers of Social Development, Justice and Health to see how we can build better supports across different government agencies for children with challenging behaviour.

The Ministry of Education is also undertaking a fundamental rethink of its approach to student attendance and engagement.

This year we’re piloting a new long-term approach to better manage student attendance and truancy in South Auckland and Gisborne – the areas with some of the highest truancy rates in the country.

These pilots combine the local District Truancy Service and the Non-enrolled Truancy Service into one integrated service, and works more closely with social service agencies.

The pilots are helping identify the most effective ways of addressing truancy, which will then be applied to a new national service next year.

These initiatives will see more engaged children, more confident staff and stronger parenting – ultimately reducing the incidence of bullying.

Last year the independent Workforce Advisory Group provided me with a report setting out a vision for New Zealand’s teaching profession.

There are a number of things we really need to get right – initial teacher education, ongoing development of teachers, and leadership of schools and the profession.

We received more than 900 submissions on the report – with many principals providing insightful responses. You can access a report summarising key themes to emerge from the consultation on the Ministry’s website.

We are now working with the sector to determine a way forward.

Some of you may have attended this week’s Education Workforce Sector Forum, where discussions were wide ranging, challenging and constructive.

One of the biggest challenges we face is how to make teaching the first choice for some of our top New Zealand graduates

Teach First New Zealand and the University of Auckland are developing a plan to complement existing initial teacher education programmes.

The plan provides an opportunity for a new model of initial teacher education programmes that target low decile schools and subjects where there is a shortage, like science, maths and Te Reo Maori. It will allow us to use top graduates to fill teacher shortages, and we will see more Maori, Pasifika and male graduates.

Overseas experiences in the UK and more recently in Australia have shown that this can be extremely successful. And I was able to discuss the idea with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during her recent visit.

Prime Minister Gillard is a great exponent of Teach for Australia, citing amazing graduates inspiring and engaging students in some of the poorest areas. Teach for Australia is a great example of widening the net to attract the brightest graduates into the teaching profession.

Because we know that good, high-quality teaching makes the greatest difference in student learning, being able to attract into teaching and then retain top-quality graduates, in the course of a few years, can make a big difference.

To allow schools and boards to focus more on teaching and learning, without the added responsibility of managing the property, the Government intends to commission two new schools in Hobsonville that will be designed, financed, built and maintained under a public-private partnership - subject to satisfactory bids of course.

This Government has made it clear we are open to greater use of private sector expertise where it makes sense. Building and maintaining two new schools through a public-private partnership is likely to result in a range of benefits.

While the financial savings in this case are expected to be relatively small, overseas experience shows appropriate use of PPPs introduces new design, financing and maintenance techniques, which can also flow through to the wider public sector – helping it to improve its procurement and management of infrastructure.

The private sector partner will be responsible for financing, designing, building and maintaining the property for 25 years of school operations.

In addition, the private-sector partner will carry the risk around time-consuming and expensive problems like leaky buildings and be required to sort them out quickly or suffer a financial penalty.

The land and school will still be owned by the Government, while the board of trustees will remain wholly in charge of the governance and day to day running of the school.

The number one issue I hear from principals is that too much of their time is spent dealing with property issues.

The best outcome will be that Board of Trustees and principals won't have to worry about property, they can just get on with focussing on teaching and learning.

As Education Minister, my absolute priority is to ensure all young New Zealanders have those critical foundation skills of reading, writing and maths they need to succeed. This is essential to raising achievement and delivering the education outcomes we all want for our young people.

And National Standards are a tool to make sure this happens.

I’d like to read a National Standards email I received from a board of trustees chairperson just this week.

He says:

“Our principal has led the implementation seamlessly and I would say we have found it to be a worthwhile experience. I have been impressed with his professionalism and integrity. The staff have all responded well to the challenge.”

I want to thank you all for your hard work, and for the progress being made in implementing the National Standards. I have great confidence in the professionalism and expertise of teachers and principals to get this right.

Raising achievement remains our number one priority.

We are well into year two of a three year implementation programme, and this year the focus is on moderation. To give schools the support and knowledge they need, there will be more than 200 Ministry-funded moderation workshops around the country.

An exciting development is a National Standards pilot programme to accelerate maths learning, which has seen significant improvements in a short space of time for struggling students.

Overall, students achieved 80 per cent of a year’s progress after just ten weeks of intensive teaching, with some children making over a year’s improvements in ten weeks.

The maths pilot study was funded from the extra $36 million invested by the Government in National Standards, specifically to develop new programmes and resources for students needing additional support in reading, writing and maths, over and above quality teaching.

These results are extremely encouraging.

As well as significantly accelerating progress in maths, the majority of students said they enjoyed maths more as a result of the programme, which in turn makes it more likely they will achieve better results.

Parents also played an important part in lifting achievement during the pilot, and this is a vital part of National Standards, because you need their support and assistance.

We will now roll this project out to a larger number of schools – 180 this year – to evaluate its effectiveness with a wider group. In the next phase there will also be an extra focus on accelerating the maths learning of Māori students.

The evidence tells us that when our underachieving students fall behind they tend to stay behind, and in many cases begin disengaging. Early intervention can address this issue, giving every single young New Zealander the opportunity to reach their potential.

For students to achieve, schools need to be performing well, which is why the Education Review Office’s longitudinal reviews are so important.

In broad terms, ERO now differentiates between schools that are having difficulties, schools that are performing well, and schools that are high performing and have well-developed self review capability.

The one to two, three, and four to five year return timings of ERO visits is in proportion to the levels of concern about schools’ performance and their capability to sustain and continue to improve their performance for their students, staff and community.

When a school is identified as having difficulties and is offered a longitudinal review, it allows the school to be supported over a period of one to two years with ongoing evaluative monitoring.

ERO will work with the school through a review and development planning process to support them to achieve improvement milestones. The longitudinal reviews are carried out alongside support from the Ministry.

The process avoids leaving a school struggling, on its own, for a period of one to two years before its next review. And the feedback from schools about longitudinal reviews has been very positive.

Before I finish I want to touch on the fast approaching Budget.

The full implications of the Christchurch earthquake are not yet clear – but they will be substantial, and the wider economic impact of the earthquake, combined with already slower economic growth, means difficult decisions have had to be made in this year’s Budget.

The Prime Minister has already announced that Education, Health and Justice are likely to be the only areas to get increases, showing our commitment to these critical areas.

But money will be tight for the foreseeable future, and now more than ever we need to invest in the areas that will see the greatest benefit for students.

Here is a reminder of some of our key investments.

• This Government has doubled truancy funding to help schools introduce stronger and more proactive measures to reduce truancy rates.

• In the coming year we expect school property spending to rise to $741 million - $200 million more than under the previous government.

• Four new schools opened at the start of this year, while 400 new school buildings have resulted from the fast-tracking of publicly-funded projects.

• Overall, there have been 18 new schools and rebuilds since 2009.

• And increased funding so about 4000 young people will be retained in education and skills training in the year ahead instead of dropping out of the system, as a result of the Youth Guarantee, Trades Academies and Service Academies.

My thanks to the principals who took a leap of faith with these initiatives - the feedback so far has been fantastic.

How we all responded to the Christchurch earthquake shows us what can be achieved if we’re focussed and think of innovative ways to find solutions.

What Christchurch schools have achieved since the earthquake shows government and everyone in education what is most important – the student must be at the centre of everything we do.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the rest of your conference.

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