NZEI ANNUAL CONFERENCE

  • Wyatt Creech
Education

Introductions

Your conference is certainly timely. I propose to discuss some general matters in relation to education and then move onto some of the immediate issues facing us in the education sector now.

Over the past decade New Zealanders have increasingly recognised the importance of education to our economic and social well-being. The policies we put in place and the practices we follow in our education institutions need to make sure our young people are prepared well for the future.

There are four key strategies driving the Government's approach.

First we will continue to strive for quality and improved performance throughout the system.

Second, we must ensure that the education system can meet the demands of increased roll growth. Between now and 2002, we will need to provide for 38,000 more pupils in our primary schools who will be requiring teachers and classrooms. The age profile of the teaching profession will also mean significant numbers are needed to replace those reaching retirement age.

Third, we want to build an education system that responds quickly and well to the changing needs of individuals and New Zealand workplaces, as well as to international influences and technological change.

And finally, fourth, we want better outcomes for those currently at risk of failure.

There is one commitment I can quickly restate. We are committed to the introduction of a unified pay system. Among the items finally agreed at the employment contract negotiations, a unified pay system will remove the traditional primary/secondary pay differential that has been the cause of so much angst in the primary sector.

At the time of your contract settlement in 1995, the Government agreed to work with education sector groups to develop through a Working Party process an Integrated Teaching Service with a Unified Pay System for the next contract round. At first the PPTA did not participate. Finally as part of the settlement of their contract last year they agreed to take part, but they unilaterally walked out in April of this year before the Working Party had finished its work. We hoped to see all education sector groups working together with officials to identify the issues and develop the framework under which we could move on to negotiate employment contract arrangements that aligned with this unified pay system concept.

The PPTA leadership seem to me to be determined to fight the idea known as 'entrenchment'. Entrenchment would see the traditional pay differential gone for good. Here we have to be careful with the language. The PPTA leadership say publicly they do not mind us paying primary teachers the same as secondary teachers - the PPTA President repeated it to your conference again yesterday - but you should note that they fight with a vengeance any effort to entrench the principle. As I see it they are wanting to maintain the primary/secondary difference by another name - it gets called the specialist/generalist distinction. But that does not wash with the primary teachers I speak to. I have often been told that teaching new entrants is a specialist skill; not a su bject specialist skill, but a specialist skill nonetheless. And you have to ask why the PPTA leadership so vehemently oppose entrenchment. No matter what words are used to cover their real intent, if being able to get the differential back again was not their intention, what reason would they have to oppose the notion of entrenchment?

In saying this I want to make it clear that the Government is not looking for confrontation with the PPTA. We want to see this settled sensibly and without disruption. But no-one should mistake our willingness to work the issue through constructively as a lack of determination on our part; to do so would be to badly misread the situation. I recently called the PPTA leadership into my office and I spoke to their conference. I told them in a very few words that the Government and public want to see them think again on this issue; that is what should happen now.

This week has signalled the start of pay talks between primary teachers and the Ministry of Education. It is the first time the Ministry of Education has had the job of negotiating employment contracts. It is also a real chance to develop a new pay system that can remove the pay differential and respond to the demands the teaching profession will face as we move into the new century.

One of those challenges is to demonstrate to the public that all our pupils are doing well in the education system. A few evenings back, television news reported the results of a survey of Canterbury University students that showed them unable to answer even the most basic general knowledge questions. That does not look good to the general public. Let me give you another example. As taxpayers, we spend $65 million of taxpayers' money on Training Opportunities Programmes - TOPS - courses for 16 to 17 year olds. These are often basic literacy, numeracy and life skills courses. Again, for the general public, this is bamboozling. How can it be that young people can spend from ages 5 to 16 in our school system - go all that way through regular classes - and yet come out of school without having a handle on the most basic skills?

The public will want to see these factors addressed. We owe it to young New Zealanders to create a school environment that not only encourages them to learn and develop, but sees that each and every young New Zealander is able reach, indeed make the most of their potential. Ensuring every young student is taught by professional and motivated staff is key to achieving this objective.

With centralised resourcing, the employment contract becomes the vehicle to achieve our objective of getting improved standards of performance. The Government does not see performance criteria pitting teacher against teacher as some teachers fear, but rather setting standards that extract the best possible performance from all teachers. One of our biggest challenges is to keep in the profession young talented people who are highly marketable. A pay system that says "another year older, another step up the scale" doesn't provide the freedom to do that. We need to be able to recognise good classroom teachers, so we can keep them in the classroom.

The concept of paying to keep good teachers is not revolutionary. It happens in just about every other profession. Neither is it unique to New Zealand.

Perhaps I could sum up the approach with this quote from a well known political leader. I quote:

"Poor teachers will go. And don't let anybody think that we are tough on bad teaching because we don't value teachers. We are tough on bad teachers precisely because we do value good teachers, who need high-quality teachers working alongside them."

These words aren't mine. But I endorse them. They are in fact the words of Britain's new Labour Prime Minister - Tony Blair.

The Government wants to make it worth it financially and professionally for teachers to perform at their best. While the word performance has raised an emotional reaction amongst teachers in the past, but what we are talking about now should not do that. It is not about attacking collegiality. Teamwork is as essential to good outcomes in education as in other vocations; our view of performance would reward contribution to the team. Nor are we looking for a system where teacher pay is assessed against student outcomes. Adding value to all students is what it is all about. Keeping abreast with up to date best practice is one criteria we have in mind. The curriculum for a child at school in the 1970s was definitely different to that for a child at school today. Society has changed, curriculums have changed, and schools have changed. Our young people need to have teachers who are on the ball, who are up to date and who can do their jobs as well as possible. The new remuneration system should encourage a culture where teachers achieve the best, has to be good for the education system and for young New Zealanders.

One concept which is also worth further investigation is that of the lead teacher - someone with top notch teaching skills who may be better continuing to use those skills in classroom settings and in support of their colleagues development, as opposed to moving into management. The UK Government has just announced its intention to investigate such a concept.

Again a quote from Tony Blair:

"High standards. The pursuit of excellence. Discipline and leadership. Support from home. Not for some children in some schools. But for all children in all schools. Teacher training will be reformed."

We are certainly not on our own with the improvements we want to make to education.

In conjunction with the new Secretary of Education Howard Fancy I have been working hard to ensure that decisions in education are not made in isolation from each other. We are seeking practical solutions that make schools work better. As Minister I have talked to many people from the sector - from the grass roots to groups representing various interests - to ensure that in developing its programme the Government is complementing the positive things that are happening in schools.

My personal style is clear: I prefer to consult and work constructively with the sector. I am not interested in political agendas hijacking the education system. If groups want to have influence, they have to be willing to participate constructively. They must be prepared to talk to us; not past us. They must be willing to find middle ground; not struggle endlessly to win something for their part of the sector at the expense of other parts.

The policies and extra investment that we are developing are being done in the context of the Tomorrow's Schools model. The Tomorrow's Schools system is now nearly eight years old. It is maturing. I have a basic commitment to the underlying principle of Tomorrow's Schools. To my mind the idea of giving responsibility for deciding the priorities for spending the education dollar back to education professionals and school communities at the local level was completely the right choice. Communities in my book are encouraged to see schools as community assets for the use of their communities; for example, they can share halls, courts, swimming pools and other school facilities to benefit the neighbouring community. They can take initiatives to make the best use of available funds to ensure their children fulfil their potential.

One such decision around which your organisation and the Government does not agree is the direct resourcing policy. The Ministry of Education's national staffing formula applies exactly the same staffing ratio in every school from North Cape to Bluff, regardless of the different needs of groups of pupils, or different talents in staffrooms. Under optional direct resourcing schools have the choice of determining how best to use that staffing resource. And since our policy allows schools to decide for themselves if they want to take this opportunity, they have the option of returning to central resourcing should they feel direct resourcing does not work for them.

Of late we have been consulting with interested education sector groups on the formula. I am not about to make a decision. In fact, I have no Cabinet paper to advance on the matter at this stage, but I should point out that should I determine to advance the issue, it would be quite within the Coalition Agreement to do so. But I want to make this point clear. I can confirm Bill Noble and Joanna Beresford's comments in answer to the claim that there is some sort of under-the-table agreement with the NZEI on the direct resourcing formula. The PPTA is wrong. There is no such agreement.

The Coalition Agreement allows us to review the formula to remove anomalies. Issues in relation to the formula are often raised with me when I travel around schools. As you know the Government has been consulting the education sector groups - including yours - to see what the real concerns over the current direct resourcing formula are. It is clear that two problems have come to light. One is loser schools; the second is assurances that the funding will be to cover any negotiated salary increases both now and in the future.

First, the loser schools situation. I can understand the objection of schools to the current formula on that point. It is hardly surprising that schools do not enter into a staffing system if it does not cover the costs of their existing staff. Were we to decide to fix this anomaly, we could do it by introducing what we call a 'no loser' formula. Under a 'no loser' formula the level of staffing resource is driven entirely by the maximum staffing entitlement of our schools. In this sense a staffing driven 'no loser' formula is fairer than central resourcing because central resourcing puts very different amounts of staffing resources into similar schools. Where the staffroom has many teachers at the top of the scale, it receives more taxpayers' money for its staffing than a school of exactly the same size that has staff with less experience for no better reason than the differences in the makeup of the staffroom. A staffing first no loser formula would be fair to all schools in that there would be no loser schools and all schools would be treated equally.

The second problem with the current formula I hear in staffrooms is also very understandable. It reflects the considerable cynicism towards politics these days. It is summed up by the typical comment I hear; "we know you, you are from the government; you will set it up generously and then in a couple of years screw it back". I can answer that concern two ways. First, our policy is to leave direct resourcing voluntary. If the adjustments are not made, schools will return to central resourcing. Second, we have absolutely no intention of reducing funding for education. On the contrary, our record shows we are continually increasing funding into schools. The Government has made it perfectly clear that schools are the first priority for extra spending. Schools are where most of the $600 million of new spending announced in the Budget went.

Since I have been Minister I have put a lot of effort into building confidence in the education sector throughout the whole gambit of policy. I have put a lot of energy into winning additional funding for the school sector. In fact, total education spending in this year's Budget climbs to almost $7 billion for the 1997-98 financial year, a significant increase in resources. We have worked to target the additional resources to gain maximum impact, and while it takes some time for the additional efforts that flow from that additional resource to bear fruit, the seed is sown in many ways.

One example of an area of focus is the resources targeted at the increase in workload resulting from behaviour problems in schools. One of the major components of Special Education 2000 is a new programme to address severe behaviour problems. Special education is an area where I have taken a close personal interest for some time, long before I became Minister of Education. The 1997 Budget made an announcement of between $150 - $200 million increased spending in Vote:Education for Special Education 2000 when it is up and operating. This big injection of resources provides an opportunity for us in the education sector to do something really special with special education. We are currently working on the detail of how this new initiative will be delivered. It is large and complex and in order to make it manageable, we will phase in development. Elements of the programme will be starting by the beginning of next year. This new work will support teachers in their schools in an area the media continually draws to the public's attention - school suspension levels.

Budget '97 also commits $40.8 million to backup the skills of classroom teachers with new professional development programmes. A further $6 million of new funding will help with the introduction of additional support including extra classroom resources for the curriculum. The Budget also included $13.2 million extra funding for more training in the National Qualifications Framework assessment and implementation.

The extra support in the classroom is accompanied by an extra $45.5 million over the next three years to get enough teachers in our schools. The new investment will pay for an extra 400 teacher training places next year, 600 in 1999 and 500 in the year 2000.

The Government is working to increase the supply of Maori teachers and Maori-medium teachers. The new investment of an extra $5.4 million for Maori teachers will help provide professional development for lecturers working in Maori-medium teacher training. The Ministry of Education is working on developing an ideal level of proficiency for Maori-medium teacher trainees. Training providers will be asked to bid for funding te reo Maori programmes to help Maori-medium teacher trainees improve their proficiency in te reo Maori. They will also be asked to consider ways to provide more accessible training for rural and mature people. More study awards will be also available for teachers undertaking the Diploma of Bilingual Education. Papers in the system now will when approved bring in further financial incentives to attract Maori into teaching. In addition the new Maori Education Commission has started its work and we are but weeks away from launching the first stage of the Maori Education Strategy

Schools have also benefited from a sustained effort to catch up Operations Grant funding. By the start of the 1998 school year, the inflation-adjusted value of all operations funding will be greater than it was in 1990.

Our new responses to the pressures in the sector have not all been in money. Last year in response to workload concerns, we agreed to pause the implementation of new curriculum and qualifications initiatives. At the Workload Group, the Government and education sector groups agreed to new workload-sensitive timelines for the implementation of the new curriculum statements. The new timelines are accompanied by a comprehensive plan for the support and review of curriculum implementation. The new plan introduces a transition phase to ease the introduction of each new national curriculum statement so that schools can work over at least two years towards full implementation.

There are other challenges for schools. The growing diversity in our society - culturally, ethnically, economically - means that different schools will face different demands from their community and will need to operate in different ways to relate to their students. The advance of information technology is revolutionising our world. Access to knowledge is growing daily. Teachers must be able to assist their students to identify and acquire enduring knowledge, to filter the information on offer, and to think laterally and creatively. Teachers will need increased expertise themselves to support student development in innovative ways.

Schools these days face problems that are not associated simply with education. Sadly for some children, school is the safest place they know. Too often the public has blamed the education system for social failure. That is unfair; social problems arise in the broader community. But although schools do not invent social problems, they have to handle them when they come through their gates. Never has there been a time when the pastoral side of teaching is so important. Schools increasingly have to show young people how to interact with others and how to conduct themselves - as well as delivering education. Too often, there is unnecessary duplication or people fall through cracks between services offered by different agencies. So at a practical level, the Government is looking for effective coordination between education, health, welfare and labour market policies. I have seen some really encouraging examples as I travel through schools throughout New Zealand.

I want an education system that meets the demands of a rapidly changing world where students from all walks of life and all ethnic groups can participate effectively in New Zealand society. We are increasingly a service and information economy. Skills and ideas are now the key determinants of success. School leavers with little or worse without skills or qualifications no longer have the assurance of a job.

Better education and better schools will play a major role in strengthening families and communities. Cohesive, supportive communities and families mean vibrant schools - good schools add strength to families and communities. We want to unite the whole education sector behind this approach.

To me, with the large increase in funding we now have a window of opportunity to make real progress in education in New Zealand. We must aim high. We want to see an education system providing opportunity - where improving quality drives us all, so we make it so every young person leaves schools with the skills, motivation and knowledge to reach their potential in life. Where improving standards for all is the prime concern.

My hope is that we can continue to work together to deliver not just a unified pay system - that is just a start - but also that range of measures that will give New Zealand the best education system we can.

Thank you very much.