From Good to Great: Building the world’s best education system together

  • Hon Chris Hipkins


I doubt that there has ever before been such a diverse and representative group of educators, education experts, parents, children and young people, business people, scientists and community leaders gathered in one place ready to plan the future of education and learning in New Zealand.

You are here, not only because of your passion for education, but because we need your help, your ideas, and your enthusiasm as we seek to build the world’s best education system for every New Zealander.

We want you to work together to inspire New Zealanders with a common education vision.

One that will set our country up for the future.

One that meets the needs of all our students. No matter who they are. Or where they come from.

And one that will guide learning in New Zealand for generations to come.

Setting the vision

Bringing you here together to help co-design a common vision for the future of education and learning in New Zealand is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The chance to define what education should look like over the next 30 years.

It’s been done before – many, many years ago. In 1937, New Zealanders gathered under the banner of the New Education Forum (NEF) to discuss the future of education.

I want you to be as bold and brave when it comes to your vision and your ideas for the future, as your predecessors were then.

For example, they called for children to have individualised learning, and for more freedom for teachers to teach. Others called for trusting teachers’ professional capability more to deliver for the child and for society.

Following the gathering, Clarence Beeby was appointed Assistant Director in the Department of Education. 

One of his first jobs was to amend the Department’s Annual Report. The original was sent back by Peter Fraser. Attached was a note saying something like,” This report has nothing to say and I won’t sign it. Send me a report that says something.”

The vision that has guided New Zealand education ever since was born off the back of that rejection slip.

In the amended report, Beeby wrote:

The governments objective…is that every person, whatever his level of academic ability, whether he be rich or poor, whether he live in town or country has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he is best fitted …

“Continued education is no longer a special privilege… but a right to be claimed by all who want it to the fullest extent that the state can provide.”

Beeby went on to say,  “Schools that…cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them [and]  over as long and period of their lives as is found possible and desirable.”

What Fraser and Beeby did first was to set out what education and learning should be about; and why it was important.

It was a vision for the future. Not a fixing of this or that problem with the system. That came later.

And that is what we asking you and many other New Zealanders to do. At these Summits and over the coming months.

Education today

This government has set out an ambitious 3 year work plan for the education portfolio that will set our country up for the next 30 years.

The work plan is based on a lot of co-design, a lot of consultation, and a lot of collaboration – both in how it has been put together and how it’s going to be implemented.

I know how important it will be to bring everyone along for the ride.

Our government’s vision for education is very clear. We want a high quality public education system that provides all New Zealanders with lifelong learning opportunities so that they can discover and develop their full potential, engage fully in society, and lead rewarding and fulfilling lives.

We believe in an education system that brings out the very best in everyone and that means our educational offerings need to be as diverse as the learners we cater for.

We need an education system that can adapt to the needs of the modern world. We need our people to be resilient, creative, and adaptable.

That’s going to require a much more personalised learning experience, one that brings out the best in every individual.

We need to ensure that greater qualification attainment at the senior secondary school level is actually placing all young people on a pathway to further learning or employment.

And evidence also shows that our education system is not delivering for all students. It does not cater well either to those with educational disadvantages or for the gifted and talented.

There are persistent inequities within our system for Māori and Pasifika, and students with disabilities and learning support needs. This needs to change.

Clearly, things need to change, and they already are.

A group of innovative thinkers has worked to challenge New Zealand with ideas for how NCEA can be improved.   

They have produced six big ideas in a discussion document that will be released for public consultation soon and will, I hope, promote strong interest and debate.  

We’re developing an early learning strategic plan and review home-based early childhood education.

We’ve embarked on a long-overdue review of Tomorrow’s Schools. Rather than continuing to tinker around the edges.

My good friend and colleague Tracey Martin will be leading an action plan for learning support so that we can get on and make the changes we know are needed.

She is someone who has also long championed the need for a genuine national conversation on education. 

My colleague Kelvin Davis will be leading the development of a strategy for continuously raising of achievement for Māori learners.

And my colleague Jenny Salesa will be leading the development of a strategy to raise achievement for Pasifika learners.

In the tertiary sector, we’ve introduced fees free for post-school training and education for first year students and industry trainees, and plan to roll out years two and three over the coming years.

If you saw the front page of the Dominion Post on Wednesday, you’d see there is a huge shortage of tradies in our country. We need 50,000 additional tradespeople in the next four years just to keep up with demand.

Fees free is designed to attract many more of our young into polytechnics and apprenticeships – people who have in the past been put off by the cost and the fear of ending up with a huge student loan, and employers who have in the past had to shoulder the full cost of taking on apprentices.

We’ve also embarked on wide-ranging reviews of polytechnics and vocational education to ensure our institutions are properly geared up to meet this huge demand, and to send a strong message to our young that a career in a trade is a fantastic option.   

So that’s the challenge and there’s the broad plan to meet it.

But to achieve change, we need to do it together. 

I’m absolutely committed to working in a way that respects, engages and draws in the views and ideas of our young people, parents and whānau, iwi, employers and the wider community.

This weekend

This weekend’s Summit, the first of two – with the next one next weekend ion Auckland – will be the keystone of the national conversation about what New Zealanders want their education system to look like.

Some of you might wonder what’s different with this process – that we all know what the issues are and what needs changing, and that we should just get on with it.

My answer to that is to ask you to think about what they achieved in 1937.

This is the modern equivalent – we’ll be using new tools and processes to challenge you and excite you about the possibilities.

To do what they did in 1937 and create a new, defining era in education.   

Our Summit designers have come up with a series of activities that will stimulate and push you.

We are going to work you hard. But I hope you also have some fun along the way.

These events are designed to bring you together. And get you thinking together. Not about today’s problems. But about tomorrow’s possibilities.

You have been chosen because you are representative of our education system.

You may find yourself working here with a parent, a secondary school student, and primary school teacher. Along with corrections officer, a social worker, and an iwi representative, on an issue that interests you.

That’s the point.

We want to mix up your different situations, experiences, and insights to build a common vision of the way forward for education and learning in New Zealand.

You won’t find any sessions here specifically on for example, early learning, tertiary education or raising achievement.

These issues are important. But we believe that the solutions to them need to be grounded first in us agreeing the values our education system should stand for and deliver to.

It’s a bit like building a new house.

First, you need a design. This process is about creating your vision for your new house.

Imagine yourselves here as the architects for the future of education and learning, starting with a blank sheet. 

Then we want you to lay the foundations for future of education and learning in New Zealand. 

Again, just like building your new home. These foundations will form the values that will guide us as we seek, in the coming months and years, to add the walls, windows and roof for our new, modern education house.

All the summit sessions are designed to help you build your common vision.


Education is too important to be left to politicians. To which I could add – to public servants and experts as well. No matter how well intentioned we are.

As the old saying goes, “Whatever you do for me but without me; you do to me”.

In future, we want education and learning policy built by participants and communities. Not by others for them.

We want ministries to spend more time listening, engaging, and involving people in change in future, for the future.

We have started this new process here. With you.

This Summit has been put together for you.

All views are welcome. We want to encourage exciting and provocative conversations.

But this is not about blaming. It is about us all building a common education future.

More than 3000 New Zealanders wanted to be here. But we couldn’t fit them all in. 

That is why the conversation about the future of New Zealand education will not end here.

The vision and the ideas you come up with will be taken ‘on the road’ following these Summits. They will be shared, and added to, in schools, halls and communities, with more of your colleagues and peers as a continuation of the education conversation.

I assure you that your vision and ideas will be a significant input into our reviews of Tomorrow’s Schools, and NCEA, and into all other parts of the Government’s Education Work Programme.

Indeed, I am announcing her today a new, high-powered advisory group to make sure that they do.

The Group will be led by Judge Andrew Becroft, the Children’s Commissioner. And it has at its members:

  • Sir Lockwood Smith
  • Marian Hobbs
  • Prof Rawinia Higgins
  • Dr Debbie Ryan
  • Dr Welby Ings
  • Etta Bollinger, and
  • Deborah Walker

Every single one of them leaders in their own right and passionate advocates for great education.

 The Group will check that the work done as part of the Education Work Programme matches your vision, and has fully considered your ideas for change. It will ensure we hold to your vision as we work towards our 30 year strategic plan for the future of New Zealand education.


To end.

We want these Summits to give us a strong, clear, and ambitious vision for the future of New Zealand education.

One that will help guide us as, together, we go from good to great by building the world’s best education system.

We also want you to leave here as the guardians of, and advocates for, that vision. In your institutions, your schools, in your communities and workplaces, and with your friends and colleagues.

This is your chance to set the future for New Zealand education.

We want your vision and ideas to guide the future of education for the next three generations. Just like the pioneering work that Beeby and Fraser did all those years ago.

Peter Fraser hoped those in the 1937 conferences would feel ‘part of an adventure’, and that the conferences would see an ‘education revival’ in New Zealand.

I hope, at the end of this Summit, you are all inspired to lead our next ‘education revival.’

In 10 years, I hope we look back and say “Yes, I was there when we began to build the world’s best education and learning system.’

And that we can all say, to our children and grandchildren, “and yes, I am so proud we did that’.

I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to working with you in the coming months and years. 

Thank you.