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Nick Smith Speech To NZEI Conference

Address to
New Zealand Educational Institute
Annual Conference
Standards, Pride, Innovation, Choice, Excellence
Plaza International Hotel, Wellington
Wednesday 22 September 1999, 1.45pm

Kia Ora Hui Hui Tatou Katou

Thank you for this opportunity to address your conference.

This afternoon I am going to inject some SPICE into the education debate. I am not going to apologise for being controversial. I want to talk about National's broad approach – our focus on Standards, the Pride we have in our schools, our push for Innovation, the value in Choice and our vision of Excellence. I also want to make an important announcement about Government's decisions on National Assessment.

Education policy cannot stand in isolation. It is at the core of good social policy and it is at the core of good economic policy.

Prime Minister Shipley has put huge emphasis on getting Departments, Ministries and Ministers thinking across portfolios in the national interest. In no area is it as important as education.

The education – economy links cut both ways. A knowledge economy can only be built by investing in education. But education is a huge spender and depends on a buoyant economy to fund the necessary investment. The public purse is not bottomless. We in education depend on a vibrant business community to provide the taxes for future educational investment and the jobs for the talent we build.

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The debate over education spending is not new. I may be young in years, but I am a seasoned campaigner. Claims of education cuts and under-funding have been a monotonous feature of all six election campaigns I've been part of. Never would they be further from the truth than in this year's election.

There are 5000 more teachers in front of classrooms, the ratio of teachers to pupils has never been as good, and the teachers are better paid. Teacher salaries have risen this decade well ahead of inflation. In contrast, they fell under the last Labour Government. Perhaps it is time teachers asked the question as to which party in Government really is the teachers' friend?

Operations grants have increased well ahead of inflation. We've spent billions on property and have cleared the $600 million deferred maintenance legacy of the last Labour administration.

The Ministry has done an analysis of an average primary school of 200 pupils. Taking inflation into account, the operations grant has gone up by in real terms by $32,000, its teachers' salaries budget by $88,000 and over half a million dollars will have been spent on its buildings.

More funding is important for education but so is sound social policy. 'Strengthening Families' is getting health, education and welfare thinking better integrated. We're seeing benefits with initiatives like 'Family Start' in the pre-school years, the glasses subsidy for under sixes and 'Social Workers in Schools'. We cannot expect teachers to be curriculum experts, I.T. gurus and social workers all at once. By the first term of next year we will have 75 social workers in schools around New Zealand, and we'll have even more if we are given the chance.

On my appointment as Minister of Education in January, I set out an agenda of eight issues that I wanted to progress this year. The 'Literacy and Numeracy Initiative' and the 'Information and Communication Technologies Strategy' were the two big-ticket items. On these we've made good progress.

Today, I want to look forward. I want to give you a sense of National's agenda if we are privileged to form part of the next Government. I know we will not necessarily agree, but it's important you know where we stand and why.

I am on the public record often endorsing the excellence of our education system. Some wonder, why then, I wish to drive change. The answer is simple. New Zealand has a proud heritage of leadership and innovation in education. We betray that by standing still.

In opening I talked of S.P.I.C.E. The S is for standards, the P is for pride, the I is for innovation, the C is for choice and the E is for excellence.

Standards do matter. We make no apologies for being a political party that aims high. We don't believe in fudging failure. If a school or a pupil is not achieving, we should be big enough to say so.

This is not motivated by a desire to punish or label, but rather it is the reality that until it is stated, it won't be addressed. We want to help students and schools that are underachieving, not pretend they are doing fine. That is why we feel so strongly about an independent and strong Education Review Office. We are open to ideas on how they can do their job better. We want the Ministry to be more pro-active in helping schools in difficulty. Unlike our political opponents, we won't shoot the messenger.

We all know the standard of our education system is only as good as the teacher in front of the classroom. That is why we are striving for excellence in teacher training and ongoing professional development.

The current ERO review of teacher education is important. This report is due in the next few weeks. It will feed into our final decisions on the teacher education green paper. The focus for these changes will be on raising standards.

We are also determined to give the Teacher Registration Board more powers to deal with under-performing teachers. The numbers are small, but a child only gets one chance at a good education. We will give the TRB wider powers to put teachers under supervision, require further training and, if necessary, impose a fine. This will bring teachers in line with other professions.

Standards are equally important for school boards. Again, most perform extraordinarily well. But we also need a wider range of powers for addressing non-performance. We need the option to require boards to engage professional services, undergo training and to enter mediation.

A key part of the standards debate is consistency across New Zealand. Every child, regardless of geography or wealth, has the right to a high standard of education.

I do not believe we adequately compensate rural schools for the extra travel, toll, postage and other costs. Next month, we will be releasing a discussion document to advance this very real issue.

New Zealand has every reason to be proud of our teachers and our education system. Our teachers are dedicated, they are professional, and they devote tireless hours to our pupils. I'm a believer in the saying "Those that can, do; those that can do more, teach." Today, I want to put on record my thanks to your thousands of members for their work.

Pride in our schools is important. Teachers and boards need to know their contribution is valued. We should celebrate our success; internationally, nationally and locally. That is why I am such a strong enthusiast for the 'Teacher of the Year' and 'School of the Year' awards. They foster professional and school pride.

I must also take issue with those that choose to run down our education system internationally. I'd almost describe it as educational treason. In areas like governance and management, New Zealand is recognised as a world leader in innovation and reform. Why your President would seek to run us down is beyond me. His comments to Education International are an open challenge to the role of parents, boards and communities in our schools. It scares me that there are those among you who want to unwind Tomorrow's Schools. We must look forward, not backward.

National wants to foster innovation. We don't believe all the answers lie with our central government bureaucracies and we want to create an environment in which innovation flourishes.

The current Education Act does the opposite. It is far too prescriptive and constrains schools to a 'one size fits all' approach. It also adds to the administration burden for teachers, principals and boards. We need to look to options like a single board managing a cluster of small schools. Alternatives like He Huarahi Tamariki, for solo parents in Wellington, and Youth Nelson, for suspended students in my home town, need to be catered for.

Schools receive resourcing from three major funding streams: operations, staffing and property. Schools have made a stunning success of operations grants. I have greater confidence that we are getting more value for money for our students from this $800 million than any other share of the $7 billion education budget. On staffing, schools have a choice to be self-managing through the bulk funding option. On property, we still run a highly centralised system. It's slow, unresponsive and doesn't encourage innovation. National's focus will be on developing the policy to give schools the choice to manage their own property. It’s the logical next step of Tomorrow's Schools.

There is no greater potential for innovation than in Information and Communications Technology. Last year we put a huge investment into principals' professional development, the new on-line resource centre, computer recycling and the 23 lead schools. This year we injected $50 million directly into schools. Our next priority in this ongoing challenge is professional development for teachers. ICT will remain one of the fastest moving and most challenging areas of education and we are determined to keep pace.

National make no apologies for being the party of choice. We believe choice helps drive excellence. Just as commercial monopolies get lazy, so too do social monopolies.

We are astonished at Labour's commitment to the PPTA last night to return to rigid zoning and a requirement for pupils to go to their nearest school. We don't tell parents which type of car to buy, which supermarket to go to or which doctor they must see. The decision as to which school parents send their children is more important than all of these.

We don't believe public schools should have an unfettered right to pick only the most desirable pupils. We are absolutely committed to ensuring every New Zealand child has access to a convenient school. That's what enrolment schemes are all about. However, we're not about taking away parental choice for ideological reasons.

Yesterday, I announced key decisions on teacher professional development. Again, we are not driven by ideology but by what is best for schools and students. We are not going to divest responsibility for funding for the rural advisory service. We have also decided to retain those professional development services associated with initiatives like curriculum changes, new qualifications frameworks and those for schools at risk.

The Government has decided to devolve the other funding of $21.5 million of professional development services, to schools. Schools will have the choice of taking up their share of funding in 2001 and in the following year it will be included in all schools' operations grants.

Nothing is as important to National in education as excellence. But if we are to expect schools to achieve excellence, we must give schools the environment in which to deliver it.

The old property code came into force in my first year at school in 1970. Much has changed since. We have a whole new curriculum. In subjects like science, technology, arts, health, physical education and te reo Maori we have very different space requirements from those of thirty years ago. Mainstreaming special needs pupils and modern teaching practices often require small group tuition. Tomorrow's Schools has brought administration and management into the school, functions the old code was never designed for.

Within the next month, we will have concluded the new Primary Property Guide. The price tag with these new standards will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. We won't shy away from this cost.

In the secondary sector, National's preoccupation with excellence can be seen in the Five Steps Ahead package and Achievement 2001. With Five Steps Ahead, we want to recognise and reward our brightest students, particularly those in the maths and science subject areas. With Achievement 2001, we are determined to have robust school qualifications that recognise excellence. Under National, at fifth, sixth and seventh form levels, students will sit exams and get marks.

This turns me to the issue of assessment in the primary sector. Parity is a two way street. Now that primary teachers are paid the same as secondary teachers, parents should be entitled to expect quality information about how well their primary children are doing.

These issues of assessment are of vital importance. If we are to reach those critical national goals of having all nine-year-olds able to read, write and do maths, we need to have reliable benchmarks on which we can measure progress.

This debate is not unique to New Zealand. The worry is that we're behind the pace. Every State in Australia has National Assessment. So too do England, and the vast majority of states in Canada and America. Those that oppose National Assessment are swimming against the tide of education internationally.

Don’t be fooled into believing we are immune to what's happening in other countries. Only a few weeks ago I was confronted by an angry Nelson parent at my constituency clinic at the fleamarket. Having returned recently from Australia where she received precise and reliable information on her children's achievement, she wanted the same quality of information from her Nelson school.

A recent Ministry report revealed some telling facts. It showed that some teachers were fudging children's achievement and misleading parents. This is extremely serious. Parents have a basic right to know how well their children are doing. With no external referencing, such system failures should not surprise us.

The latest report from the ERO on this issue showed that teachers are doing a huge quantity of assessment but that the quality is in doubt. It also showed poor use of the information. If we are to reduce teacher workload, efficient and reliable assessment tools are essential.

In our search for better assessment tools, we need to recognise that schools are not widget factories. Measuring educational achievement is difficult, but not impossible. We also need to give very careful attention to how we manage the information so it is a constructive influence in our drive to achieve excellence.

The Government's decision on assessment for primary schools is made up of four elements. Firstly, new diagnostic tools will be developed in literacy and numeracy to help teachers find the best ways to boost children's learning in these key areas.

Secondly, exemplars of students' work in each learning area (languages, science, social studies, mathematics, health and physical well-being, the arts and technology) will be developed to illustrate what achievement is possible at each level of the national curriculum. Assessment Resource Banks, which contain useful assessment resources for teachers, will be further developed over the next two years.

Thirdly, the adding of new studies will strengthen the National Education Monitoring Project, which reports on trends in educational achievement.

Fourthly, new national tests in literacy and numeracy for pupils in years five and seven will be developed for the New Zealand Curriculum. A pilot involving 10% of all schools will begin next year. A research team will evaluate the test data, and how schools used them. The pilot will provide information for a Government decision on the future role of such externally referenced tests.

A pilot is a sensible response to this difficult issue. The devil is in the detail and I am determined that we get it right. Nor should we go into orbit at the notion of a new testing tool. We've had tests, like PATs, for decades – the difference is they have not been specifically tailored to the New Zealand Curriculum.

An information pamphlet titled 'How is Your Child Really Doing at School?' is being sent to all parents of primary school children in the first week of the new term. A document which explains the new assessment policy fully, 'Information for Better Learning', is also being sent out to all schools. Both will be available on the Ministry's website.

These are exciting developments in education. We are not going to walk away from the difficult issues. We are uncompromising in our quest for excellence.

I conclude where I started. National is going to put some SPICE into education. Standards, Pride, Innovation, Choice and Excellence. These are what National stands for.

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