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Speech: Education Discussion Document Launch

Simon Bridges - Leader of the Opposition

13 November 2019

I am really excited about today. Education is a top priority for me because I know it can transform lives. For me going to great schools in West Auckland and then Auckland and Oxford University opened doors and provided lifelong opportunities. While there are many different pathways to opportunity that’s what it can do for all New Zealanders as well.

I think about it all the time for my own three young children, Emlyn, Harry and Jemima, and I know all parents do.

Education is a great leveller which allows us to overcome the circumstances into which a child is born. It will also skill up and make New Zealand more productive and strong, allowing us to do so much, from building more roads and houses to solving scientific problems and understanding ourselves better.

Education along with health and infrastructure will be my top three investment priorities if I am Prime Minister.

I want to thank the education team led so well by Nikki Kaye for all of their hard work in developing this document and the thinking behind it.

Nikki will take you through it shortly. I just want to highlight a few things that stood out to me, acknowledging there is so much more here we could talk about that’s important that I won’t in the interests of time.

In Early Childhood Education you will see a continued focus that’s been in other work we have done on a child’s first 1000 days which is so critical, on social investment and on quality for our young.

In classrooms at our schools again the focus will be resolutely on quality. To me, as a son and brother to teachers, this involves valuing teachers and smaller classrooms in which our children get more attention. Over a long period of time teaching has become a less attractive career. Our proposals will ensure a greater respect for the profession of teaching and with the smaller classroom sizes we are putting forward this will be much better for our kids.

To get that quality, we know we also need to significantly strengthen what’s taught in our classrooms, the standards and curriculum. We will introduce progress reporting so you know how your child is doing. And, after slipping backwards over time relative to other countries, we will strengthen numeracy and literacy and a knowledge rich curriculum and the teacher training in this. Children must leave school with firm foundations in core areas of reading, writing, maths and knowledge.

A couple of other things may catch your eye in schools. As parents, Natalie and I want my kids to be digitally savvy. But I worry about how much time our young spend on screens. We are thinking about how we make sure kids aren’t spending too much time on devices and are also doing quality learning off-device as well as running around outside.

I also think about school rooms. You’ll see as the party of infrastructure we have significant plans for building our schools and classrooms. But personally I worry about so called ‘modern learning environments’ with 60 or more kids in them. I acknowledge some teachers and principals I greatly respect swear by them but rather than pushing all schools wholesale into them we will give schools the power and choice on this.

To develop the skills and increase productivity the way New Zealand needs to, what we do at tertiary level is obviously vital. First year Fees free has been an expensive failure. Not only has it not increased participation, there are fewer learners now than before. We propose scrapping it and think there are better ways to invest in education. We are exploring options and one is exciting: Education Saver. School age kids could receive a small sum into an account each year to go to their education future. It’s done in the likes of Singapore and could change the game, creating a value shift in all our families about the importance of education from a young age.

We are also clear on aiming for a University in the global top 50 and not slipping backwards as we have over time, a rural medical school for regional New Zealand’s success, and we will stop Labour’s disastrous polytechnics merger in favour of localism that works and increases apprenticeships.

This is our sixth discussion document and it shows National has the ideas and momentum in New Zealand politics while Labour is stuck in a rut, failing to deliver on its promises for New Zealanders. In short, this document is part of the biggest policy development process by an opposition ever.

We hope you like it – but more importantly that you enter into the contest of ideas with your feedback.


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