New Zealand Principals' Federation's Moot

  • Brian Donnelly
Associate Minister of Education (Early Childhood Education and Maori Education)

Thank you for the opportunity to once again address your annual principals' Moot.

I can tell you that it is because of my firm belief that principals are absolutely critical in the success of our schooling system that I jumped at the opportunity.

As you will be aware, I addressed this meeting last year in one of my first public occasions as a minister.

It seems a lifetime ago.

But it was an eventful meeting, because if you will remember, I made some comments about my own teaching background and certain people took exception to those comments and later used them as an excuse to withdraw from talks over the unified pay system.

I learned very quickly that in a ministerial role one has to choose one's words very carefully.

It is also true that at the time all I could really talk about were the government's plans for the schooling sector.

I am now in a position to be able to say what has been 1998 we are starting to see some of the fruits of our labour's over the past year-and-a-half...and to give you some idea of the government's future agenda.

Late last year a Wellington newspaper, the Dominion, printed a report card on the coalition government.

I am pleased to say that education came out on top by two grade points.

I am not so pleased to be able to report that all we got for education was a 'B'.

I guess that says, "Steady progress, room for improvement." The Minister of Education and myself have taken the view that if we are to improve the quality of our schooling system the government must work in partnership with the professionals who produce the goods and the lay people who represent their communities.

We have taken the viewpoint that we need to work together, not against each other.

If we are to work in partnership, we need to genuinely listen.

That doesn't mean submission.

Which one of you is prepared to say 'Yes' to every request from your staff? But I would hope you would listen...and that you would analyse and evaluate and make decisions against the whole raft of the objectives of the institutions you have to operate.

The coalition agreement committed this government to overcoming the problem of the provision of teacher supply.

We realised the genuine problem schools were facing with teacher supply.

I knew that from being out in the field.

Each year, advertisements attracted fewer and fewer applicants and we had difficulty in attracting relievers.

Unfortunately, it takes time to train new teachers.

Four hundred new trainee places per annum are being funded.

Hopefully, over the next few years the teacher supply challenge will be overcome, although for the next year or two we will still be dependant on the supply of overseas teachers.

However, there is also the situation of teacher quality.

It's all very well having enough teachers, but if they cannot read or write or communicate with children or attend to the pastoral needs of children, then they're not going to improve the quality of education.

The government's objective is to have the highest quality of teacher in every class in every hour of every day for each and every one of our children throughout New Zealand.

Pretty obviously, this is a challenge that we must face together...the government, school principals and boards of trustees.

There is no doubt that principals play a key role, through robust appraisal systems, high expectations of staff, sound staff development policies, having good support for your staff to do their jobs and, where necessary, having the courage to take action under the collective contract.

But the best of principals cannot create the quality if we in government don't do our part.

I can assure you that both Wyatt Creech and I want to see the present negotiations on the primary collective contract brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

It is very dear to my heart to achieve the goals we have in that area.

Not only have we made an extremely generous offer, but we have been prepared to genuinely negotiate and accept good arguments from NZEI.

But negotiation means a degree of 'give and take'.

I had really hoped that the negotiations would have been completed before our primary teachers could gone on holiday knowing they had what they should have had two decades Sadly, that was not possible, but I have high hopes that the matters will be resolved in the very near future.

The settlement of these negotiations will be an historical occasion.

The government does not begrudge the costs involved.

It believes that such cost is necessary if we are to achieve those earlier mentioned goals of high quality teaching.

However, we want to ensure that as a result of this expenditure that we achieve the sort of universal teaching quality that I was talking about earlier.

1998 will be the year that schools feel the positive impact of the coalition agreement.

These initiatives include almost a quarter of a billion dollars in extra funding.

Education was one of the big winners, and the compulsory sector was one of the big winners from the partner we went with.

Amongst that $250,000 is:

Almost $23.5 million to help schools cover their day to day running costs.

More than $42 million for students with special education needs - part of a package of $134 million over the next three years.

$13 million to make sure schools are staffed properly - this includes the 400 extra teacher trainee places I mentioned earlier.

80 scholarships to encourage people to train as teachers where they are in short supply - there are 480 scholarships worth $10,000 each over the next two financial years.

And I think you ought to ask yourselves what that signals a change in government thinking.

It signals that the government is saying that in the field of education there has to be intervention...we can't just take our hands off and hope that the market will supply.

Where there are shortfalls and pressure points there needs to be some direct intervention by government.

The state, as the major employer of teachers, has a vested interest in ensuring that we have quality and quantity in the supply of teachers.

We've got $12 million to update current classroom teachers in new techniques and practices.

$9.5 million in school support projects to help schools that find it difficult to deliver a quality education.

$130 million more for school property.

$3.5 million for truancy initiatives.

$1 million for new drug education programmes

$1.5 million for new programmes to help students where English is their second language.

The Financial Assistance Scheme, which was increased from $10 million in 1997 to $42 million in 1998.

One of the things we decided to do was to reduce the workload pressure on schools, and obviously that is multi-faceted.

But one of the things that was creating pressure was the implementation of new curricula and the way they were being imposed on schools.

Technically, under the old system, up until a certain day you were supposed to be responsible for ensuring that the old curriculum was in place, and then on the next day your whole school had to be doing the new curriculum.

Now, that was crazy; imagine if you were in the middle of an ERO review.

So we have tried to give schools more time to put these curricula into place, to come up with plans to implement new curricula.

While we're on the subject of new curricula, I was very pleased with the response of the sector to the new Health and Physical Education draft curriculum sent out a couple of weeks ago.

The Minister was quite nervous about that because of the workload pressures and because he felt that there would be a very strong reaction to it; that's why it was delayed from last year.

So we put in a process where we took practitioners...people who weren't health experts...but who we know worked in a variety of different schools, and we asked them to look at it and tell us whether or not it was manageable and whether they would be able to do it within the capabilities of their staff.

We brought them down to Wellington and they gave us advice on how the process could be managed, and endorsed the document.

That indicates the perspective of the government; we want to be able to take the sector on board and give them the opportunity to have input into these things...that it is not pure policy being derived by people who are out of touch with the reality of classrooms and schools.

The Health and Physical Education curriculum will put an imposition on principals.

You will not only have a look at your teaching programmes, but also look at the hidden curriculum in your schools.

I think that's great and will improve the whole way we deal with students in our schools.

Without your professionalism, there is no way this document will be fully implemented within our schools.

There will be six months consultation, with the final curriculum statement expected in early 1999.

I would hope that schools would see the value of much of the professional development and support material and be moving towards programmes that accommodate them long before the final time it has to be in place, which is in 2001.

The Government has also accepted all the recommendations of the Maths and Science Taskforce.

Once again it was indicative of this government's approach in education.

The TIMMS report came out and showed that we were not doing very well in maths and science.

I don't know if people have taken much notice of the TIMMS report, but there are things in there that should make us question the programmes we are putting in place and the results that are coming out of them.

However, the results are about exactly the same as we got in 1982.

It's probably indicative of the totality of our education, particularly at the primary level, where there is far greater emphasis put on literacy than on maths and science.

The part that we really have to be very concerned about is that when you analyse the TIMMS report in terms of subgroups, Maori are very, very low relative to the rest of the world, and Pacific Island students are even lower.

In fact, the Pacific Island rate is only slightly above that of South Africa.

As a nation we have to take this very seriously and do something about it.

The Minister of Education did.

He said, "We're not going to sit on our thumbs like we did in 1982. We're going to take some short-term, some medium-term and some long-term action." So we brought together a group of practitioners who were experienced in maths and science and asked them for practical advice for the perspective of people in schools.

They come up with a nine-point plan and I'm really pleased that the government endorsed the whole of it.

At the upper end of our education system, we aren't putting enough people into technology and science areas.

We train about five times as many lawyers as technology and science graduates.

Doing something about this amazing imbalance has to start in the primary schools.

I wanted to take some time now to talk about the Education Review Office and the recent government-sponsored review of it.

When we set out on that particular exercise we decided we needed someone who understood the process of government...we needed somebody who understood schools development and how schools improve...and we needed someone who has had experience of ERO reviews, in other words an ex-principal or something similar.

The people we chose, Margaret Austin, Apryll Parata-Blane and Wayne Edwards complemented each other very well.

They did a fantastic job and absolutely committed themselves to the review and really applied themselves to the question of how does an external evaluation agency operate so that we improve the quality of schooling.

In terms of the recommendations, we have been able to take on board around half of them almost immediately, either because they were things ERO was doing anyway or was planning to do.

The others will take some time, because they have either policy or fiscal implications.

Last year there were three reviews of ERO, including one for the PPTA.

That was a very interesting exercise, but one of the things it came out with was that we need an external evaluation agency like ERO, although it said that it should be entirely different.

Nevertheless, the data and the information received endorsed the position of ERO.

I was reading the PPTA News a couple of days ago, and saw in it an article about the Austin report into ERO.

One of the things it said was, (and I quote) "The report makes a significant contribution to the myth which has become central to ERO's operation, that schools can overcome social disadvantage.

The panel obviously chose to ignore the extensive research on the topic in the PPTA research on ERO, a copy of which was made available to the panel." (End of quote.) The assumption in these comments is that schools can't make a difference.

In other words, if schools can't make a difference, why worry about it? These kids come from poor homes and poor areas so, therefore, we going to have poor outcomes from them and they are going to get a poor education.

I don't accept that sort of assumption for a moment.

The moment we accept the assumption that schools can't make a difference we are in very dangerous territory, both socially and educationally.

The fact is that schools can make a difference and do make a difference.

Actually, the Austin report didn't say schools could overcome social disadvantage.

Kids start at school in different places and with different handicaps.

But schools can make difference to where they go to in the future.

If you look at the Austin report, the one thing they refused to endorse was that schools couldn't make a difference.

They believed that kids in poor areas needed as high a quality of education as the kids in rich areas.

They looked at the research and it told them quite clearly that there are differences between schools and that schools can make a difference.

I don't know whether people have picked up on the Nash and Harker research, which is extremely important for where we go in our thinking about education.

It was very sophisticated research based strongly on the educational philosophies of a man called Pierre Bourdieu.

In that research they tried to balance out for the weighting, not only the financial deficit some of those kids had, but the deficit in cultural capital.

When they did that they found that many of the schools that were considered to be poorly performing were adding greater value than some of those schools that were considered to the best in terms of achievement in exams.

We need to look at the research and say that schools do make a difference.

To me it almost cements in place the basic assumptions on which I operate.

The Austin panel also tried to identify some of the factors that differentiate between the schools that make a difference and those that don't.

These were some of the key issues they found:

Promotion of educational expectations, Principal leadership style, The use of external reward structures, Emphasis on the school curriculum, Parental contact with the school, and Experience level of teachers.

These are key points for me, because they coincide with my own experience and studies...namely that the key for school effectiveness is good professional leadership.

And that goes right back to you people.

I want to finish off with the Code of Social Responsibility.

A nation gets its cohesion from a sense of common values.

Since the 1960s we have been going through a period of values relativism.

We'll explore values but we won't say that there are common values that we all insist upon.

I think that we have probably diluted, not only our national ethos, but also much of the organic solidarity of our nation.

I think that people are coming around to realising that there are certain values that are universal across our nation and that we must stand up for them and we must articulate them.

The Code of Social responsibility is simply that.

The way that I look at the process is that it is a bit like the mission statements we drew up in schools several years ago.

It wasn't the mission statement that came out that was critical, it was the process that we went through.

And I believe the same is true in terms of the government's initiative on the Code of Social Responsibility.

I say to you, as principals, to use the material to encourage debate within your schools, within your students, as to what they see as the code of social responsibility.

Because they are the future citizens of our nation and if they aren't taken on board in this particular part of the debate, then the whole thing's hopeless.

So, I'm throwing out to you a challenge to get your students to participate in the dialogue that the nation will take part in over the next six months or so.

Thank you for the opportunity to open your Moot.

Best wishes for the discussions ahead.