Remuera Principals Association

  • Christine Fletcher
Local Government

I am delighted to be invited to speak to you this afternoon. And I am particularly delighted to know that you meet in this way, that the much vaunted competition and jealousy have not destroyed this kind of good old fashioned collegial support and professional discussion between the leaders of these important schools.

I know that today you intend to focus on the Minister of Education's discussion document Education 1997 -1999: Government Strategy. The contributions and views of groups such as yours regarding this consultation document will be very important to the Government in developing future policies.

I am a strong advocate of the value of sharing information and sharing views. It is by working together that we will improve government policy. Simply choosing sides and tilting at each other's windmills is no way to work for the good of our country.

Education is the greatest treasure New Zealand has to give to its young people. Education is good value for us all.

While at school our young people learn how to go on learning for the rest of their lives and that is really an excellent pay off. Schooling delivers a very high return over a very long period on an investment we all have the opportunity to make. It isn't just a question of dollars, it isn't just a matter of new buildings and expensive equipment although these help. What really matters is leadership. The leadership and management of our principals is arguably the most important factor in the success of our school system.

Your responsibility for the management of teaching and learning programmes, the management of teams of highly qualified and talented teachers and the promotion of wise changes and innovative practices to meet the needs of the children and to achieve the aspirations of the community are all important factors.

The whole world is changing. Borders are altering, technology is making new ways of communicating important. There are likely to be changes in our children's lifetimes that are simply beyond our imagination.

The education our children are receiving now must fit them to lead New Zealand's contribution to the development of the whole world. We have always believed that the support of families is important in promoting children's educational achievement.

Families are now making a very important contribution through their role as trustees on school boards. Through this administrative arrangement parents are becoming more knowledgable and aware that their views count as never before.

Parents are making choices about their children's education. They are considering different schools and expecting schools to respond to their aspirations for their children. They are asking questions, looking for schools that can deliver what they want.

This is increasing the workload on schools and particularly on principals but it also indicates the high value parents place on education. It must surely be a most welcome development.

Schools have always sought the support of parents in many different ways and most importantly in sharing responsibility for children's educational progress.

Children from homes filled with books, families who play sport together and discuss views and news, and children who have music and dancing lessons are advantaged educationally.

Schools, however, have a responsibility to provide all children with educational advantages whether or not those children are advantaged at home. These days children and parents and teachers want to be able to make informed choices about important issues. Families are keenly interested in the kind of education their children receive. The schools in this part of Auckland are big and growing. Choices are available but some of the choices parents want are simply not available. We should be able to make some choices about the kind of secondary school we attend.

We can choose private or independent schools, integrated schools with special character and very large state schools. But all of the choices should also include the right to attend the neighbourhood school.

I think it is obvious that we need another secondary school in this district if only to relieve the overcrowding in our existing schools.

We need new schools and schools which provide students and their families with a choice about the kind of education they want. And I hope that they will have the opportunity to choose a secondary co-educational option..

It is also obvious that if families are to support their children and the school the best possible choice of school will be one in their own neighbourhood. Families should have the right to enrol their children in their neighbourhood school.

It is simply not sensible for a student to have to walk past their neighbourhood school to take a long bus journey to the only school at which they can gain a place.

What messages does exclusion from the neighbourhood school send to young people. How can they be told that they are in some way unacceptable, that some of their friends can be included whilst others are excluded. This does not contribute to strong familes and strong communities.

At the same time we must not forget that some families speak other languages at home and that some families have different values and different goals. Some of these families want their children to maintain their own culture as well as to become well educated and successful New Zealanders.

You will know that we have quite a long way to go in dealing effectively in our schools with languages other than English. English is the dominant language in New Zealand and yet we have many Aucklanders now who speak Samoan or Chinese or Korean at home.

We must all value the wonderful diversity this gives our community and we must have teaching programmes which help these children to be strong in two cultures and in at least two languages.

In the past our schools had the luxury of almost all five year olds speaking English before they started at school. Now New Zealand schools are like those in many other parts of the world, a significant number of children who enrol need first of all to be taught the language of instruction. I fear we are only just coming to terms with this reality.

There has been some media interest this week in levels of literacy in New Zealand schools. There are many different kinds of literacy but I think that we can take it for granted that reading and writing are the most important forms of literacy.

New Zealand teachers probably lead the world in knowledge and skill in teaching children to read. Contrary to the academic gossip New Zealand teachers use the full range of tactics in initial reading instruction. They use grapho phonic cues as well as whole language techniques so that most of our five six and seven year olds get a wonderful start as competent and confident readers and writers.

We must, however, take care that we don't fall behind in teaching the next steps in developing reading skills. Teaching our little ones to read we are undoubtedly good at: reading to learn is what the further development of our young people depends upon.

In my offices here and in Wellington and in my role as Minister of Women's Affairs, Cultural Affairs and Local Government I receive frequent requests from school students who are doing a project on a topic they think we might help with.

We do help and usually we do it very quickly because we understand that young people don't always manage their time perfectly.

There is a great variety in the focus of the questions they ask and we hope that they will not simply copy out what we send them but that they will have framed their research questions in a way which allows them to find out something of real interest to them.

Reading research skills, finding out from libraries, using encyclopedias and other resource materials, asking and listening to other people, skim reading and taking notes are all skills which are important in literacy learning. There is more to reading than decoding text. Young New Zealanders, and older ones too for that matter should be reading for fun and relaxation, reading to find things out, reading to discover and examine ideas, reading with and to each other to share learning and understanding.

There are also the important literacy skills in computers, the internet, the visual language of TV and print media, as well as in scientific and mathematical concepts.

All New Zealand children are entitled to have access to the New Zealand Curriculum. The management of this is your area of greatest expertise. The discussion document you are considering today suggests that we need a creative, highly skilled, motivated and adaptable workforce and goes on to consider the impact of global influences on New Zealand.

In providing for lively learning and teaching programmes over all of the seven essential learning areas there will no doubt be a need for change. I hope that we will all see this as an exciting challenge rather than an overwhelming chore.

The social and labour market questions the Minister of Education's document considers include:

differentials in income, and
family breakdown.
We will need to be sure that we can provide successful learning opportunities for children whose lives are stressed and who are at risk of failure because of societal factors like these.

The document focuses on four key strategies:

striving for quality;
making sure the education system meets demand;
meeting changing needs; and
and raising the achievement of all students, including those at risk of failure.
As principals you will play an important part in implementing these strategies. Your input to finalising the directions New Zealand education will take and painting in the details of the big picture of the future is a valuable project.

As Minister of Women's Affairs I care very much about education. I want to ensure that women can achieve social and economic independence.

Education is the way. Women's full participation in our society will only be achieved when generations of women have enjoyed the full benefits of equal access to quality education.

Internationally women have discovered that it is not always an easy matter to have women's priorities met in the area government expenditure.

Certainly that has been my experience in my own workplace and the way in which people are managed.

First of all there is the management of workload. As from the end of last year I have been assigned three portfolios: Women's Affairs, Cultural Affairs and Local Government that are traditionally held inside of cabinet.. I am still an electorate MP with a wonderful constituency but now twice the size. There is important work to do and huge issues for Auckland. And on top of all of these I am required to be a permanent member of one of Parliament's busiest Select committees.

I am a government MP, I am a legislator , I am a Minister. I debate and pass law in Select Committees and in the House, I attend Cabinet Committees on Education and Employment, on Health and Social Policy, on Strategies and Priorities. I am a member of various ad hoc Ministerial Committees from time to time.

As a Minister outside of cabinet to be effective I have to be a lobbyer. I must attend every cabinet committee, know my stuff and position my officials to be in the right place at the right time.

The obstacles to effectively fulfilling my role whilst not being in attendance when final decisions are made frustrate me and inhibit the championing of causes that I am committed to. It leaves me entirely at the mercy and dependent on the integrity and goodwill of others working though agreed processes.

Too often I hear criticism of behaviour in Parliament under MMP. MMP is blamed. Coalition governments are blamed and considered unstable. To my mind it is quite the reverse.

MMP and Coalition do require extra work in consultation but managed properly this creates opportunities for people to come together to find the common ground on difficult issues that face not only New Zealand but many other countries in the world. My experience is that no party has a monopoly on wisdom or ideas. Shared and open decision undoubtedly brings benefits. The problems that I see facing our Parliament today have little to do with MMP but more to do with workplace culture and bad behaviour.

I have found some behaviour in government deplorable. Frustration has led me at times to consider other options. But obstinacy and the knowledge that you can only change the system from within has prevented me from doing so thus far. Plus I don't walk away from things

Both Cabinet and Parliament are required to lift their game under MMP. We need to adopt a people management style that reflects New Zealand as we all want it to be. A style that nurtures talent, celebrates diversity, and values the contribution of all kinds of different people. The unique New Zealand character.

The Women of Parliament have been leading the way on this. We have shown that it is possible to work together.

Women MPs have been working together, discussing big issues like the Compulsory Retirement Savings Scheme and are determined that the Superannuation Accord should be revitalised. We endeavour generally to support each other as we look for ways to move away from power games and the polarisation of positions.

The meetings of women MPs are a glimmer of hope. They are MMP at its best, they are what we wanted when we sought a change from the old system.

Two years ago I was given the undertaking that there would be two new secondary schools in Auckland by the end of next year.I am hopeful that this will happen, indeed the Government strategy document has a strong section on Building Capacity to meet demand.

However, if it doesn't what do I do? I am bound by collective cabinet responsibility. My loyalty to my Ministerial colleagues is required to override my loyalty to my electorate. I am uncomfortable with this.

There has to be a better way of doing things. There has to be a fresh approach. Energy and talent must be used in the system of government in just the way you as principals seek to get the best out of your staff and students.

I think that you might have some ideas about behaviour management, establishing school culture, developing a collegial working climate. It has reached the point where I believe New Zealand's culture of government is becoming dangerously macho.

Just as you take urgent remedial action in your school when it appears that girls learning is being disrupted by rude and unruly little boys I believe that we need some kind of enlightened leadership to make the way we work inclusive.

You have the opportunity to bring change to the next generation. I have the responsibility to encourage the present generation of policy makers and law makers to work together.

I end today with quotation from American political scientist John Schaar.

The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created - created first in mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.