NZ Area Schools Assn Annual Conference

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

E nga reo, e nga mana, e nga hau e wha, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
Ki nga tumuaki o tatou kura, e mihi ana tenei ki a koutou,
Kei te hari koa te ngakau ki te tautoko te kaupapa i tenei ra.
No reira, kia ora tatou katoa.

It is for me a genuine pleasure to be able to address you here this evening. I am not too certain whether you are aware of my past connection with this association. To those who are aware I ask that you bear with me a moment.

I first worked in an area school in my third year of teaching when I took up a position at Taipa Area School teaching secondary maths and PE. Following a stint in the Cook Islands, my next position was as Deputy Principal of Te Waha o Rerekohu Area School on the East Coast where I worked for five terms before winning the position as principal of Tauraroa Area School 25 kilometres from Whangarei.

I held that position for over seven years and it was during that period that this association was formed. I attended a number of those conferences and in some ways this association foreshadowed the partnership which underpins "Tomorrow's Schools."

I always felt that having an organisation which included both the parent administrators and the professionals was a unique strength of the NZ Area Schools Association. However, the point I am making is that I have considerable understanding of area schools, their unique strengths and the particular challenges which they face.

One of the long standing grievances, and I believe legitimate grievances, of area schools is the timing of the negotiations over its collective contract. Teachers in area schools have often been the losers as a result of having to wait in line.

It is the government's desire to ultimately have an integrated teaching service and the moves we have been making towards a unified pay system takes us one step further. Certainly I believe it would be of great advantage to area schools if one collective contract covered all teachers in the compulsory schooling sector.

The government is committed to the provision of a national network of state funded schooling providing the highest quality of education. If you look at the additional expenditure allocated to education by this coalition government and the steps we have taken to strengthen our schooling system I believe there is ample evidence of this commitment.

Thus far an additional $1.7 billion has been committed through the last two budgets on education. I could spend the next half hour listing all the areas of additional expenditure. The reality is, however, that the vast majority of this money has been targetted at the compulsory schooling sector and this has been quite deliberate.

It is worthwhile, in considering the pros and cons of MMP to recognise that our present government has a woman as Prime Minister, a Maori as Deputy Prime Minister, and an American as number three. The American is the present Minister of Education and the other two are primary teachers. All three have intimate understanding of rural New Zealand.

I would like to assure you that in all the policy development work which has been going on (it is endless) the situation of area schools is not allowed to be ignored by officials. My personal experience means that I automatically run a "How will this affect area schools?" test across any proposed policy.

Which leads me in to some key areas which I believe need fleshing out. Before getting into specifics, however, I need to say that a key principle behind much of the policy development is the desire to create consistency and to remove the numerous anomalies in resource provision which the system has historically created. You will be acutely aware of such anomalies, being from area

And yet, as hard as an administration might try, such is the complexity of education provision in New Zealand it is inevitable that anomalies will occur and I believe it is necessary to look at both sides of the ledger. The Fully Funded Staffing Option is a case in point. As you will be aware, this initiative announced in the budget added $220 million dollars to Vote Education, no paltry sum.

At the time of the coalition agreement the government of the time had already embarked on discussions with sector representatives over teacher workload issues. I became involved in these
consultative meetings.

The key questions which the meetings focused upon were "Where are the pressures creating additional workload emanating from and what can we do to reduce such pressures?" It became increasingly clear that there were some pressures which were being created from the centre and there were some elements within the control of government.

This led to the development of a new timetable for new curriculum introduction, initiatives for the creation of materials for Maori immersion education, the new accountability reviews by ERO, the clustering of schools initiatives and the present work on the rationalisation of senior secondary school qualification systems.

However, it became equally clear that many of the issues could not be resolved centrally because the pressures were emanating at a local level. Community and school administration expectations were also significant drivers of teacher workload pressures. Moreover, different school communities were coming up with different solutions. There were Tu Tangata type programmes, social workers in schools, additional paraprofessional support - it became increasingly clear that the full resolution of workload issues could not be found in centralised formulae.

Hence the decision to run with the fully funded option with which I might add the area schools have done very well.

The question is however left in many people's minds that the government will simply cut the funding. It is interesting that antagonists use the example of the operation grants to justify this claim.

The fact is that as a result of increases since 1996, operational funding is at a higher per student funding rate, inflation adjusted, than at any previous time. This fact demonstrates the invalidity of one of the major arguments against the scheme. The formula is related to the collective contract.

The major point I wish to make here is that Boards and principals need to consider the human resource available for educational purposes and to adjust expectations to what is reasonable. This can only be done at an individual school level.

Another area of policy which I know area schools will have a vital interest in is the Green Paper on Assessment. It is unfortunate that all the attention has focussed upon one element of this package, the national testing proposal. And even with regards to this aspect, there seems to have been total focus upon the effects of league tables which the paper specifically rules out.

When looking at the green paper, it is critical to evaluate the proposals as a package, because this is what it is. For some time now criticisms have been made that there is no measures by which schools could assess the quality of their programmes and the learning levels of their children. There are a few tools available to schools but largely responsibility has fallen upon teachers to devise their own assessment tools.

The problem with this, apart from the obvious workload issues, is that there was no way a school could gain comparability with the rest of the NZ student population. Progressive achievement tests provided such comparability but unfortunately do not measure against the current curriculum statements.

Hence the multi-pronged approach. Exemplars would be developed against which teachers could rate the progress of the children within their schools. Curriculum areas such as art and oral language are areas which lend themselves well to this form of benchmarking.

Further development of diagnostic tools which may assist teachers to work out specific needs of students are also suggested. The assessment resource banks already under development by NZCER and from which schools could develop their own test materials are another part of the package as are further extensions of the national educational monitoring project. And then there are the tests which are considered will provide a further plug in the information gaps.

What we are seeking is input from those in the schools. Extensive consultation is taking place, with academics, with principal groups, with principals and teachers, and with Board members and parents. We are also taking every opportunity to learn from international experiences. The key issue is "How can we use assessment to improve learning programmes?" and hence the learning of our students.

Of course for area schools assessment procedures at the secondary areas of the school are equally important. The government is aware of impact of the National Qualifications framework on schools, and particular those which tend to have smaller secondary roles such as area schools. It is also acutely aware of the issues surrounding the double tracking system currently in place and is developing policy in this area with some urgency.

Last year I launched two National Certificates, the National Certificate of Employment Skills and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement. At the time I launched these I could not fail to note how pertinent they would be to area schools.

Anyone who has been in area schools will know that the property situation has always been an
untidy one.

New policy under development should tidy this up and place area schools on a level playing field (although I know of one area school which has never had a very level playing field). I understand that there is a problem relating to a square root formula and I undertake to look into this for you.

At present there is legislation before the House which I believe will assist both principals and boards in the vexed area of suspensions. Basically the Bill will provide a greater range of alternatives for Boards when dealing with inappropriate student behaviour.

Undeniably Boards and principals need to have the means to ensure that their school is a safe environment conducive to optimum learning. At the same time, we need to keep the gates of education open for those who have difficulty maintaining the behavioural standards which are necessary to achieve those conditions.

Special Education 2000 is a government commitment costing between $150 million to $200 million over the term of tis government. It is one of the really big ticket items. People have been critical because they have not been able to see the full picture. The final pieces of the jigsaw are just now being put into place.

When the full package is instigated parents, boards and teachers will assuredly agree that finally we have a comprehensive, consistent and well resourced special needs programme in New Zealand.

Finally there are a number of policy areas which are underway at the moment which will be of interest. These include work on an information technology policy, work on rural education which will include REAPS, work on a Maori education strategy, work on the Teacher Education green paper, and a total scrutiny of the Education Act and the regulations affecting schools.

The last of the Curriculum statements, the Arts, will come out in draft form early next year, whilst the final form of the Health and Physical Wellbeing statement will delivered.

We have set ourselves a huge workload. But it is work which is necessary and essential if we are to achieve our goal of becoming the most highly skilled nation in the world

Finally, I would like to thank you sincerely for inviting me to open your conference. I always enjoy meeting with people such as yourselves who remind me of the enjoyable and challenging times of my own teaching career.

I regret very much that I am unable to spend more time with you this evening but The House is sitting under urgency and, like Cinderella, my carriage awaits to whisk me back before the bells ring at seven.

May I wish you well for your discussions over the next few days. I look forward to hearing the results.

I now have much pleasure in declaring the conference open.