Learning Support, Curriculum, Attendance - NZPF Moot Speech


Tuhia ki te rangi

Tuhia ki te whenua

Tuhia ki te ngakau o ngā tangata

Ko te mea nui

Ko te aroha

Tihei Mauri Ora!

Kia tau mai te aroha

Ngā manaakitanga o te Atua

Kia ora koutou, Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou

Thanks for having me today. It’s exciting to be here with you. I was a proud NZPF member for 20 years and while I don’t want to sound like I’m glossing over just how hard being a principal is I am still maintain my time as a principal was the biggest of privileges.

I’ve been to a few moots in my time in Education and I remember feeling quite…  sceptical about the things said from various Ministers at this podium when I sat where you are.

So I was careful in planning what I wanted to say in this speech. To loosely quote one of my favourite, if not recently controversial philosophers, Dr Seuss - I want to say what I mean and mean what I say.

Firstly I want to reiterate what Chris said earlier about the great work you’ve all done over the past year to keep young people engaged in their learning and to support your staff and communities. I am so proud of the sector.

It’s been and still is a challenging time for all of you and I know the huge amount of stress you and your staff are under. I admire the leadership you’ve shown each other and support you’ve shown to our tamariki during this time. Thank you for being amazing.

Your kaupapa of today – Get Set Reset – Our Future: ‘Curriculum, Teaching and Learning’ is really exciting.

I’m sure we can all agree that the pandemic is a big disruption in education but most of us in this room already understand that disruption can bring opportunity.

An opportunity exists now to reimagine curriculum, teaching and learning to ensure all our learners have every opportunity to experience success.

Such an opportunity is exciting but means we must examine together all factors that impact upon young people experiencing this success.

I’m excited about the opportunity I have, through my delegations as Associate Education Minister, at this critical point in our educational landscape.

When I was thinking about this speech today I quickly realised I don’t have enough time to talk with you about everything I want to but I believe today is the start of our conversation together.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room - Learning Support - and while I’m probably going to pose more questions here this morning than give answers, I want to leave you with a sense of where my priorities lie and how passionate I am about building a strong Learning Support network.

When I was given my delegation of Learning Support, I had some of my former colleagues jokingly question if I’d been given a hospital pass (actually maybe there was some seriousness in there) – in fact I’m thinking some people in this room probably thought the same.

This is certainly not how I feel – I wanted Learning Support – this is an area that has driven me throughout my career. I am excited with this delegation but I acknowledge it’s not easy and the road ahead is not going to be easy.

Our challenges are extremely complex. Within the same system we have learners who thrive and others who don’t. I know that both you and I share the same goal of wanting all our learners to thrive and experience success.

To understand the complexity of this challenge it’s important to outline the work achieved over the past three years.

I want to acknowledge my predecessor Hon. Tracey Martin. Under her guidance this Government has invested $1.1Billion into learning support since 2017. We’ve broadened what we mean by Learning Support – it’s wider than just those with identified disabilities, it includes the one in five students who need some level of additional support for their learning.

We’ve got our Learning Support Action Plan, and created a new workforce of 623 Learning Support Coordinators.

I released an evaluation report last week that shows great results so far - it’s clear that LSCs are doing excellent work. They are adding much needed capacity and capability in their Schools and Kura. Future roll out is subject to the ongoing evaluation phase and Budget processes. It’s also useful for me to hear from you how valuable resource is to your tamariki.

We’ve employed over 180 more Ministry Specialists – like occupational therapists, psychologists and Early Intervention Teachers – and there are now nearly 1000 across the country. Along with this, schools have RTLBs, PB4L, as well as the Intensive Wraparound Service, an Interim Response Fund, and the Ongoing Resourcing (ORS) for students with the highest levels of need.

Despite all of this, there are still critical issues that are presenting in schools.

That tells me there is a much deeper issue than resourcing. I know the trauma and stress that teachers are seeing and experiencing. I’ve had first-hand experience of this – that was my reality. There are students who have very challenging behaviours and whose situations are very complex.

I hear your requests for more resourcing to meet the needs of the young people who sit within Priority 6 of the Learning Support Action plan – children and young people at risk of disengaging. The team at the Ministry are well aware that Priority area 6 is a top priority for me.

They are exploring how to best develop local initiatives that support the wellbeing and educational needs of those students exhibiting behaviour that may be challenging to others.

It is important, however that as well as focussing on short term solutions we also take a far more strategic position.

We all know that education is initiative heavy. We see a problem we plug it with a new initiative time and time again until we get to the point where we cave. That’s why it’s important while we look at the short term we also work together in partnership to look at the medium and long term.

We must also remember that this isn’t just on the shoulders of education. In many situations the underlying issues are unlikely to be addressed by schools on their own. I know many of you have reminded me Health and welfare should also be part of the conversations. We’ve seen just how powerful breaking down the silos can be through examples such as Social Workers in Schools and more recently Mana Ake in Canterbury.

While your stories are powerful – I get them and understand them – I have the same stories. We have an opportunity to move beyond them with shared solutions towards a strong and sustainable system that provides the best opportunities for all our tamariki.

We must together look at all parts of the system from the micro-site level to the macro-systemic level, and make fundamental shifts rather than adding another initiative to an already struggling system.

The needs of our learners are changing, and so too must the system.

We know attendance is a symptom or marker of a much larger picture of student engagement: improvements in behaviour and learning will contribute to improved attendance.

As you will know all too well, one of the ongoing challenges we’ve been facing is declining attendance rates - Student attendance has been declining since around 2013.

COVID-19 had posed additional challenges around student attendance and engagement.

We all know how important it is for young people to regularly attend school. Everyday students attend school it makes a difference, because:

They stay engaged in learning

They have direct contact with their teacher

They are in an environment where the focus is on their safety, wellbeing and learning

It provides an important emotional support network for them with their friends and classmates and school community.

Schools, on their own, cannot address all the social and economic woes of our society. But by working together, we are much more likely to turn the attendance picture around. 

Over the coming year, I intend to review the structure and performance of existing investments in student attendance services, drawing on the lessons we have already learned from the URF investments.

Through the Urgent Response Fund, we have provided $50 million in 2020/21 to support children and young people who need extra help with new, locally developed solutions to the student attendance and engagement challenge.

The fund is available to schools, kura and early learning services me ngā kōhanga reo to help address attendance issues, support wellbeing, cultural wellbeing and re-engagement in learning.

The URF can be used for school-wide activities to support attendance and student welfare, or for individual students or groups of young people.

In some schools, the fund is enabling teachers, teacher aides, principals and/or kaumatua to visit the homes of their ākonga to provide assurance around safety and support at school, and to connect to additional wellbeing support where needed. 

In other examples, additional support is being provided to whānau to access the help they need from other agencies so they can overcome barriers to their children attending school.

We learnt that local knowledge and priorities must underpin decisions about the use of URF funding. Regional groups of leaders are working with the Directors of Education in the Ministry's ten regions to determine how funding can best support attendance, engagement and wellbeing issues of children and young people at a local level.

There are also great pilots happening in Kawerau and South Auckland which show that this regional approach is important.

There is no one answer, initiative or programme to fix the issue of declining attendance rates, and get kids engaged with their learning but it is clear local knowledge and priorities must form part of the solution.

Refreshing the curricula will also help, so that when children are more emotionally-regulated, they can engage with learning that is relevant, interesting, age and stage appropriate, and meaningful to them and their whānau

Students need to learn from a curriculum that is rich in te reo and tikanga Māori, that focuses on wellbeing, identities, language and culture and equips them with the skills and aptitudes they need.

And parents, teachers and whānau want more certainty about what tamariki need to ‘understand, know and do’ in schools and kura, track their progress, acknowledge their strengths and where support is needed

That’s why we are refreshing the national curriculum over the next five years - so it is clearer, more relevant and easier to use. This includes both Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and The New Zealand Curriculum.

During the next five years, each learning area in The New Zealand Curriculum will be refreshed ─ beginning with Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and the Social Sciences learning area this year, followed by content for the Mathematics and Statistics, English and Science learning areas in 2022.

An example can be seen in the recently announced draft curriculum content for Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories and Te Takanga o Te Wā. This year, draft content is being trialled so it is ready to be taught in schools in 2022.

The important shift for Te Marautanga o Aotearoa is to address equity, trust and coherence and reflect a more authentic indigenous curriculum that is holistic and ākonga-focused, grounded in te ao Māori.

The refreshed national curriculum for schooling will strike a balance between the learning that is important nationally and that which is relevant locally.

This means there will be more consistency about what is taught across the country, while teachers and kaiako can also better integrate local context—so ākonga are learning from a curriculum that is meaningful to them and their whānau.

Whānau, hapū and iwi are also valued as important contributors to what schools and kura need to achieve for their tamariki.

Ākonga are at the heart of why we are refreshing the national curriculum. Their voice, diverse needs and aspirations will inform the refreshed curriculum, providing every opportunity for their success, now and in the future.

As part of the curriculum refresh we are developing strategies and supports for literacy and mathematics. Both are foundational for success across the wider curriculum, and in work and life. 

It’s clear that what we’re doing in mathematics is not working for all learners – we have persistent inequalities and a pattern of long-term decline in student performance

A priority in 2021 is also working with the sector to develop a mathematics strategy, drawing on contemporary evidence (from both research and practice), so that we can meet the unique needs of all learners including Māori, Pacific and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The literacy strategy will identify how we strengthen progress along the learning pathway and address literacy issues for all learners, and in particular those that are considered at-risk.

We will be working closely with literacy and mathematics practitioner working groups, including principals, like yourselves and teachers, and taking a fresh look at our guidance to make sure it’s up-to date and can meet the needs of our diverse population.

You will hear more about this soon, and have opportunities to provide input and advice into the strategy. 

This Government is committed to reducing longstanding inequalities in education so that all children and young people – including those with greater learning support needs – can have their achievement, progress, wellbeing, and participation valued and supported

We can’t do this without you. We know we need to support teachers and kaiako to successfully put these changes in place.

This Government has invested significantly more than any government before in learning support, in developing the workforce and resourcing schools. It is clear, that if more money and more people was the only answer, things would be starting to improve.

As I’ve already indicated education can sometimes feel like a Christmas tree – with all sorts of initiatives piled on, one after the other after the other.

We need to review how our Curriculum, our Learning Support and Attendance Services are structured to put the learner and their needs in the centre. Because if the tree isn’t structurally sound, the tree topples over under the weight of its shiny baubles.

Schools are already doing this – they already put children at the centre - but I remember how it can sometimes feel like a challenge to do so.

Educators and all other New Zealanders will have the opportunity to help shape our curriculum so that all our tamariki can see themselves in their learning and get the learning they need.

We know that people in our kura and schools are experiencing a lot of change as we work to improve education outcomes for all ākonga – so we are developing an extensive package of supports in collaboration with educators, including professional development, to better meet THEIR needs.

We will work with school leaders like yourselves, teachers and kaiako to make sure we redesign teaching and learning in a way that better supports you to meet the needs of our ākonga. It will take strength, commitment and passion.

I am passionate about education and in my heart will always consider myself to be an educator. I know there are going to be times in our ongoing conversation where we will disagree but at all times please remember that I hold you all in the highest regard – you do amazing work and I sincerely value your equal role in this partnership going forward.

In those difficult times we need to remember Joan Dalton’s advice that the difficult conversations turn into the most important ones.

In closing, I hold a quote by Glennon Doyle with me every day:

How do I find my purpose?

How do I find my people?

Here’s how to find both.

Figure out what breaks your heart in the world – that’s your purpose.

Find the folks working to fix that thing in the world and join them - those are your people.

You are my people and together we can work to improve the lives of our tamariki and rangatahi.

Kia Kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui

No reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātau katoa