Nick Smith Speech To PPTA Conference

Published: Tue 21 Sep 1999 02:59 PM
Address to
New Zealand Post Primary Teachers' Association Annual Conference
Quality Hotel, Wellington
Tuesday 21 September 1999, 2.30am
Thank you for this opportunity to address your conference.
Today I want to set out National's broad approach to Education, the values that drive us, the ambitions we have and how we believe Government can best deliver on them. I also want to make some important and specific announcements on teacher professional development.
But before I do so, I want to put on record my thanks to your thousands of members. I know they are dedicated. I know they are professional. I know they put tireless hours into our students. We ask more of our secondary teachers today than we have ever asked before. New Zealand has every reason to be proud of our teachers and the contribution they are making to the future of our country. I'm a believer in the saying "Those that can, do; those that can do more, teach."
I am proud to be a product of our public education system. It was the enthusiasm and commitment of two of my Rangiora High School teachers that motivated me to get a PhD and pursue a career in politics. I won't mention their names, or you might hold them responsible for current education policy!
Education policy cannot stand in isolation. It is at the core of good social policy. 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. Talk of 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. The track record shows that when the economy is growing, Government invests more and when it's not, education misses out.
The social policy links are equally as important. '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'.
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.
There will always be a tension between teachers and the Government of the day. The challenge for us both is to ensure it is a constructive tension. I know your new President Graeme Macann has made a conscious effort, as I have, to improve relations. The settlement involved give and take on both sides and we managed to avoid classroom disruption. We are working well together on 'Achievement 2001'.
Your President has made it plain to me that workload is a major issue. We are serious about addressing this through the newly established working party. We need to focus on eliminating those things that add to teacher stress but don't add to students' learning.
The issue of workload highlights a broader question about education policy making. A huge amount of work has gone into the new curriculum. Inevitably, everybody wants everything to be taught. The process problem is that the curriculum development can occur in isolation from issues of staffing, resourcing and property. The future challenge is to get these issues better in sync.
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.
National's vision for education is ambitious. There are four strands to our approach that contribute to our goal of excellence. These strands are high standards, increased investment, tackling the social issues, and greater school autonomy. I want to talk about each in detail.
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 student is not achieving, we should 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 being more pro-active in helping schools in difficulty. Unlike our political opponents, we won't shoot the messenger.
'Achievement 2001' is a project of huge importance. The current regime of school qualifications was founded in a bygone era and has become a hotchpotch of old, new, borrowed and blue. They grew from an era when a fraction of students went beyond fifth form. Providing meaningful qualifications for those not pursuing academic careers is important but unit standards have proved not to be the answer. I also reject the pass-fail notion of unit standards and want a system that recognises excellence. I wish to make it plain today that the new qualifications system will give students a percentage mark. I also believe the new National Certificate must be buttressed by external examinations to ensure consistency. Getting the right mix of internal and external assessment across the subject areas will be a huge challenge. We welcome your input.
Tomorrow, I will be making announcements about assessment in the primary sector. There is no doubt that we need far better information on children's achievement in the early years. Far too many pupils arrive at secondary school unable to read and write. Now primary teachers are paid the same as secondary, there is no reason why their teaching should not face similar assessment.
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.
In May, Government instructed the ERO to review the provision of teacher education. I am astonished that some, and notably the universities, are frustrating that review. What have they got to hide? As publicly owned and funded institutions, they have to face modern accountabilities like everybody else.
The Review Office is also looking at ongoing professional development. Higher standards will be driven by choice yet, currently, schools have no choice for most of the ongoing professional development of teachers.
These issues feed into the final decisions on the Teacher Education Green Paper which will be concluded in the next month. Again the focus of these changes is raising standards.
I now want to turn my focus to National's commitment to increased investment in teachers and schools. 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 classes, 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 teacher's 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 secondary school of 800 pupils. Taking inflation into account, the operations grant has gone up by $197,000 and teachers' salaries by $174,000. But that's not all. Over this decade, $2.3 million will have been spent on its buildings.
The Government is determined to put further resources into education. How much will finally be decided by how fast the economy grows. Today I want to outline some of our priorities.
A key issue is the outdated property codes of the 1970s. They do not match up to the curriculum demands of the new century. Within the next month, we will have concluded the new primary guide and work is already underway on a new secondary guide. The price tag with these new standards will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. We won't shy away from this cost.
Our second priority is that of Information and Communications Technology. Last year we put a major 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.
We are also committed to reviewing the operations grant. We must continually monitor and reassess that our funding is ensuring a good education for all young New Zealanders regardless of wealth or geography. An issue of particular concern is that of rural schools. I do not believe we adequately compensate our rural schools for the extra travel, toll, postage and other costs. In the next month we will be releasing a discussion document to advance this very real issue.
The third key strand of our policy is tackling the social issues. There would not be a teacher in New Zealand who would not acknowledge the educational cost of social problems in children's lives.
Issues like drugs and violence are not of schools' creation. They walk in the school gate each day from the wider community. However, because schools are so central to teenagers' lives, they can be part of the solution.
Schools today are far less tolerant of violence and bullying, and good on them. We are not going to break the cycle of violence in the wider community if we turn a blind eye at school. The 'Eliminating Violence Programme' in schools is a good initiative, is delivering results and has the strong support of your association. I am committed to seeing the programme expanded.
We also need to give schools more support and help in dealing with behavioural problems. The 'BEST' programme and RTLBs are aimed at doing just that. Perhaps our most difficult challenge is managing students that have been permanently suspended.
New Zealand must remain true to the goal of having every student under 16 in a meaningful education programme. Let's not pretend the hundreds enrolled at the Correspondence School are beavering away over their correspondence school papers. And this is not a criticism of the Correspondence School staff but a statement of fact that distance education is not the answer for these students.
The great challenge in the next two years is to effectively use the $36 million commitment from Government to deliver quality programmes for these students.
In tackling social issues, National is a strong proponent of early intervention. A pre-schooler on 'Family Start' costs just over $1,000 per year, a wayward teenager over $10,000 per year in an alternative education centre, or, as I know all too well from my time as Minister of Corrections, $70,000 per year for an inmate at Paremoremo. Clearly, it makes greater economic as well as social sense, to intervene early.
Research shows it is possible to identify high risk families. Family Start is a joint welfare, health, education initiative to help these families early on. There will be 3,500 families on Family Start next year. It sits alongside programmes like 'HIPPY', 'PAFT' and 'Awhina Maatua' helping thousands of children in the early years.
The fourth and final strand to our education policy is greater school autonomy.
We believe in local communities, and the rights of parents to have a real say in their children's education. We believe New Zealand's 2700 principals and boards are closer to children's needs and are better able to make resourcing choices than ministers and bureaucrats in Wellington.
The Government's role is to provide adequate funds, set high standards and insist upon results. We must also have the judgement to get alongside those schools that need help and keep out of the way of those schools that don't.
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.
I also want to put to you a radical thought. If education is the question, are our current schools always the right answer? Talk to people like Mike Moore or Wally Stone (head of Kaikoura Whale Watch), and they will tell you they are not. This doesn’t mean tipping our schools on their end, but acknowledging that for some students it doesn't work.
My problem is that innovative solutions are hindered and not helped by the current Education Act. Youth Nelson, a creative programme for suspended students in my home town, is hamstrung by the law. So too is the He Huarahi Tamariki programme for teenage sole parents here in Wellington.
A further issue is the 'one size fits all' philosophy behind the current Act. We need to give scope to greater innovation and flexibility. Options like multiple schools governed by a single board and shared management need greater provision. We also need to focus on reducing bureaucratic red tape in the school sector. These are the sorts of issues that need addressing in the forthcoming review of the Education Act.
I want to conclude my address with an announcement on the issue of ongoing teacher education.
These decisions are consistent with National's approach of giving schools and boards more say. We believe schools are better placed to determine their ongoing professional development needs than the Ministry of Education. It is plain common sense.
This decision is the consequence of extensive consultation. 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 central government 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 option of taking up their share of funding in 2001 and in the following year it will be included in all schools' operations grants.
I'm confident schools will get better value for money from these divested funds. Teacher training needs to be tailored to schools' needs, not the Ministry's. The purchase of teacher professional development by schools is not new. Of the current $60 million spent on teacher professional development and support, $20 million is already purchased by schools. This decision effectively doubles this.
The Government acknowledges that this will put extra pressures on Colleges of Education. To their credit, they are supportive of the change and want a more direct relationship with schools. We have agreed to help fund restructuring costs for the colleges. These are sound changes that will benefit teachers and students.
For those who want cosy, centralised structures that deny schools choice and flexibility, this announcement will seem threatening. For those who want education taken forward, this presents exciting opportunities for innovation.
Our ambitions for education look forward, not backward. We have confidence in schools, not bureaucracies. We value excellence, not mediocrity. We seek innovation, not stagnation. We want nothing less than the very best for our students.

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