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Smith Speech To New Zealand Principals' Federation

New Zealand Principals' Federation
Annual Conference
Rotorua Convention Centre, Rotorua
Friday 30 July 1999, 11.30am

Today I am here to give a vote of confidence in your contribution to our schools and I'm also here to give you confidence in my Government's vision for schools. I want to acknowledge your new President and wish her well in the job, and I want to thank your Federation for the constructive leadership role it plays in New Zealand education.

Some people think that being Minister of Education is a dog of a job. They're wrong. Each time I visit a school I walk out the gate brimming with pride at all the effort and the energy that principals, trustees and teachers are putting into the school.

A few weeks ago I attended the re-union of Victory School in Nelson. A dear old guy with a walking stick tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself as the School's Principal back in the 1950s. He was amused by the fact that he was a Principal before I was born, and started to give me a rendition on education policy. I was expecting the tired old rhetoric about 'being better in my day'! I got the opposite. This guy did a rave about the progress in the school over the last decade. He said he had never seen so many people in the staffroom, and they were bright and committed. He said he loved the way that parents were involved in the running of the school. He was envious of the Principal who could get on and make so many of his own decisions without some Education Board bureaucrat second guessing him. He said he couldn't believe the flash new admin area and the fact that it didn't look the same as every other school and, when he saw the pupils working at their computers and the kapa haka group and the musical performance of the children, he said "my goodness we've come along way under Tomorrow's Schools".

He's right, and the story of Victory School is repeated a thousand times over around New Zealand. I haven't become all starry eyed. There are schools that are not matching up. They can't be ignored and I want to talk today about initiatives to improve them. But they are a very small minority. The vast majority of our schools today are better managed, more inclusive, better staffed and delivering better education than they ever have.

At the heart of the philosophy behind Tomorrow's Schools are the words flexibility and choice. I was amused by a quote from one teacher union die-hard who said that the f and c swearwords in the 1990s were flexibility and choice. There are still those who challenge the role of parents in the governance of schools and who want to return to the centralised command and control of yesteryear. Don't be shy of telling the successes of your schools because there are those who would take back that flexibility and choice tomorrow if given half a chance.

Education will always be about getting the very best for children from a limited budget. In this respect, Tomorrow's Schools has been a stunning success. Schools control operational budgets of over $830 million every year and spend every dollar of this money each year with great care. They shop hard for the best deal. I haven't noted too many schools chartering whisper jets. You are at the chalk face and recognise that a dollar wasted is a child's education compromised.

While I am pleased to be a cheerleader for what you have achieved over the last decade, we can't sit on our laurels. The knowledge economy of the new century will put more demands than ever on our school system.

Our education policy has got to be forward looking, and continuously focused on how we can drive standards higher.

This year you will have heard me talking about the literacy and numeracy initiative and information technology in schools. These are our two flagships this year.

On the first - the Literacy and Numeracy Initiative - we are making good progress. The taskforce has delivered its report and we are on track to implement all 13 recommendations.

This morning we have added a further chapter here in Rotorua at Malfroy Primary School with an information pack of ideas for homes on how they can lift the reading, writing and maths skills of children. It is an acknowledgement that most of children's learning occurs in their homes and communities.

This is part of the Feed the Mind Campaign that is already showing very positive results. It has been only going for 3 months but research shows the message is getting through. There is an 11% increase in parents' recognition of the importance of literacy and, most significantly, a 23% increase for Pacific parents. There is also a 14% increase in the proportion of parents who think they can contribute to their children's learning and marked reductions in the number of parents who say it is too hard or costs too much. We are getting the message through that schools alone can't reach our educational goals.

Our second flagship this year is ICT. On Monday, applications for the new information technology grant open. I am enthused by the way schools have picked up the ICT challenge. Let me make it clear that this year's package is not the be-all and end-all of ICT in schools. My next goal on this front would be to boost the professional development in ICT for teachers.

Other important programmes include Special Education 2000, on which I made an important announcement a fortnight ago, and social workers in schools - we will soon be announcing the schools that will get this additional resource.

In the pipeline we have important work on the teacher education green paper, assessment and school qualifications, all of which we will conclude this year.

On the issue of the teacher education, can I give you a strong re-assurance regarding the rural advisory service. I have received an overwhelming message that the service is valued by Principals and is an absolute lifeline for many rural schools. It will be retained. It is, however, my intention to introduce a greater degree of contestability into other professional development services.

The other outstanding issue from the teacher education green paper is pre-service training. The process for approving teacher training programmes is a dog's breakfast. Universities get approval from the Committee on University Academic programmes (CUAP), which in itself is a sub-committee of the Vice Chancellor's Committee. The Polytechnics have their teacher training programmes approved through the New Zealand Polytechnics' Programmes Committee (NZPPC). Colleges of Education obtain approval from the Colleges of Education Academic Committee (CEAC). Private training establishments have to get approval from the NZQA. I've got CEAC, PPC, CUAP and it is a bunch of CRAP. We need one robust approval process in which the sector has confidence.

You will be aware of the ERO report released yesterday on the underachievement of boys. It will not be news to you. The report identifies some of the strategies that will help boys do better. These include recognising that boys and girls have different learning styles and that poor school discipline particularly adversely affects boys learning. The report also emphasises the importance of strong student support programmes. Visiting your schools, I see many of these positive things already occurring. But I also note something else, and that is the shortage of male teachers in the primary sector.

This last issue is one on which I wish to make an announcement today. It is an area in such a PC society that angels fear to tread. Let me put the problem to you.

The ERO and many social researchers have identified the importance of positive role models for boys. Yet our census shows 55,000 boys growing up in households without a male role model. These boys go on to school and are taught by an increasingly female profession.

This is not a criticism of women teachers, but it is an acknowledgement of the reality that we do not live in a genderless society. It is my view that if we are to lift boys' achievement, if we are to deal to some of the social issues confronting boys, we need to attract more quality men to your profession. The surprise for me is that it is the women in the staffrooms that are raising this issue with me.

Addressing this issue is not easy. I'm not about to pay male teachers more or to set lower standards. That would be an insult to our excellent women teachers. But, I do want to be proactive about attracting more men into teaching.

The reluctance by men to take up a career in primary teaching has been partly driven by salary, partly by social attitudes, and also by the fear of being accused of sexual abuse. Pay parity with secondary teaching and the 17% increase to a start-up salary of $34,000 per year addresses the first issue. Graduate teachers will now be starting on better salaries than graduate accountants and lawyers. Getting society to support and respect the valuable role of male teachers in primary schools is one of my aims. While being tough on sexual abusers, we must also be cautious of making accusations without sufficient evidence against men working with children.

The challenge in changing social attitudes is that the fewer male teachers there are, the more difficult it is to get school leavers to consider it as a career option. That is why I am announcing today that we are investing in an advertising campaign to attract males to the teaching profession by emphasising the rewards of a teaching career and the important contribution men can make.

There is an ironical parallel with the 'call to arms' in 1914 and 1939. My message to young men today, is your country needs you - in the classroom.

The advertising campaign to attract more men into primary teaching will start in early September, in time for enrolments for next year's intake. The campaign involves newspaper and television advertising as well as promotional material for use by careers advisers in secondary schools.

The advertising campaign is a start, but I am also considering using TeachNZ Scholarships to help attract high male achievers to primary teaching. These scholarships could parallel those used to attract Maori and Pacific Island trainees. I am seeking further advice on whether this additional step is necessary and whether it would comply with the Human Rights Act.

These are the hot issues of the day. I want to take this opportunity to give you the longer term picture. There are four big challenges in the school sector for whoever is privileged to be Minister of Education in the new century.

The first big challenge concerns school property. Unlike schools' operations grants, which schools themselves totally manage, or staff salaries that schools have a choice to manage, school property is managed in the old style centralised system. It has been described by one of my senior managers as 'akin to a soviet shoe box factory'. It also has parallels with an annual lottery, and schools have no capacity to plan long term. This is a real weakness. We expect schools to plan the way in which they spend their ops grants and their staffing for the long term. But this is deficient without the third leg. It is like a two legged stool. We have done our best to make a bad system work and have made some honest efforts to increase the flexibility. But the system is in need of fundamental reform. Schools should have the choice to manage their own property and to be able to incorporate it into their school's planning.

The challenge will be to develop a flexible system that fairly funds schools to self manage their property for modernisation and roll growth. My hope is to have a pilot on offer by year's end.

The second big challenge is operational funding. I have already stated I have great confidence in the way boards have managed their funding, but I also believe it is timely for an overall review of the operations grant. Like Tomorrow's Schools, it is ten years old. The initial funding formula was more based on historical funding than on need. I don't want to raise expectations that a big dollop of extra funding is in the offing, but rather the debate is about the distribution of that funding.

One Nelson school wanted recognition of their extra grass-cutting costs because the sun shines so much. As the chief grass-cutter in the household I can vouch that they are probably right, but we will never satisfy every nuance and difference in every community. The challenge will be to make the funding formula more transparent, and for it to more closely reflect the costs that schools actually face. We need to look at whether the funding for our schools in poorer communities is correctly targeted. We need to develop a better system for assisting schools in rural and remote communities who undeniably have extra costs in toll calls, and access to technology and professional development. The bottom line in this work has got to be ensuring that every child in New Zealand, regardless of family wealth, ethnicity or geography, gets an equal shot at a good education.

The third big challenge is finding better systems to deal with school failure. In the first instance though, let's put this issue in context. I remember well the wise words of former Prime Minister and Education Minister David Lange that 'bad examples make for bad law'. His point was that no matter how good a structure may be designed, there will always be examples for whom it doesn't work. So it is with Tomorrow's Schools. In 10 years of Tomorrow's Schools, 38 boards have resigned and 12 were dismissed. In percentage terms, this represents half of one percent, or one in two hundred. If the Black Caps or All Blacks had a record like that the entire team would be knighted!

The financial data also show a pretty good record. The Parliamentary report on NZ Schools tabled a few weeks ago, showed that less than 5% of schools had ongoing deficits. This says that 95% of schools are managing their finances effectively. Reports show that schools had a combined surplus of $34.5 million and, during the eight years covered by the report, schools had built up cash assets of over $200 million. I'm not arguing this shows that schools have got too much money or too little money because frankly I don't think it shows either. What it does show is that schools on the whole have been prudent and careful managers of the taxpayers' money they have been entrusted with.

Just because the board hasn't been sacked, or the school hasn't gone broke doesn't necessarily mean that the school is providing our children with a good education. Quality education is hard to measure but it is information we need to know. The Education Review Office has this task and by and large does it well. ERO sets tough standards but you should be proud that over 90% of you meet them. There are those who want to scrap ERO but they are mistaken. You've heard the saying 'don't shoot the messenger'.

While the number of schools that are failing is small, that does not mean we should be complacent about it. A failing school robs its pupils of the education they deserve. We need to do better at addressing and supporting schools that are in trouble. There are not enough options for dealing with failing boards or failing teachers. There needs to be amendments to the powers of the Teacher Registration Board and to the Education Act with respect to boards. The Ministry of Education needs to be more proactive in dealing with schools in trouble. In the past they've been too hands-off. The School Support Projects in Northland, East Coast and Otara are examples of the Ministry showing positive leadership. Only yesterday I received the first report from the 28 schools involved in the Strengthening Education in Mangere and Otara project. It is showing very positive results and shows the way forward.

We will also have to invest more on the skills front for both boards and principals. We need to be thinking about the sort of training and support that will help make schools hum.

The fourth big issue is the Education Act and its associated regulations. As I work my way through education issues, I struggle with a plethora of red tape that would strangle an elephant. Parts of the Act are older than I am. Some of the prescriptive regulations read like 'the annual general meeting of each board of trustees shall not be held prior to the fourth full moon of the year during which the dog howls, but before the seventh full moon following lent'.

When I sit the Education Act and Regulations on my desk, they stand taller than my eighteen month old daughter Hazel. I can't find much in the Act or the regulations about the educational development of my daughter into a mature, contributing New Zealander over the next twenty years. Sadly lacking are words like learning, quality, standards and children.

One of the key priorities for the new century has to be a complete overhaul of the Act. I intend to set the ball rolling on the 1st of October tenth anniversary of Tomorrow's Schools by releasing a discussion document. It will ask questions about whether a 'one size fits all' approach is the right one. We need to give better recognition to the differences between a thousand pupil secondary college and a small single teacher school in the back-country. We need to be more open minded about governance structures and, in rural areas, give greater flexibility to the idea of a board serving several schools. Some people feel threatened by this review. They should not. It is not driven by some ideological agenda. It is driven by a desire to make the rules work for children, rather than children working for the rules.

Can I conclude this address by telling you what I think I need to do to deliver excellence in education for this country. The first is to maximise the resources I put in your hands and the second is to maximise the flexibility that you have in meeting your pupils' needs.

You've seen a track record from this Government consistent with this approach. The most important resource is teachers. We have five thousand more than a decade ago and with those teachers has come improved pupil-teacher ratios. And we are paying these teachers more than we ever have. In real terms, primary and secondary teachers, whether new graduates or top of the scale, are receiving higher pay. In the eighties, real salaries for our teachers declined. I'm a strong believer that if you want to have good teachers you have to pay good money.

Operations grants have also increased in real terms from $689 in 1990 to $806 in 1999 per pupil. The IT grant is on top of this.

On school property, we've made huge investments over this decade - over $1.5 billion. This year we will finally put to bed the $500 million plus legacy of deferred maintenance from the 1980s. We've committed a further billion dollars over the next three years to improving and expanding our schools.

Funding is part of this equation but an urgent priority is the new property guide. The 1970s code is grossly out of date. My ambition is to have the new property guide for primary schools agreed upon in the next month. It will make a big difference.

Can I conclude by thanking you for your commitment to young New Zealanders. In the new century, even more so than in this century, education will be a passport to the future. Our national success rests on your and my shoulders.

I hope you've enjoyed your conference and that you will return to your schools reinvigorated. There is nothing as important in our country as education.


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