OPENING OF TWEEDSMUIR JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOLEducation
I am delighted to be here at Tweedsmuir to open your new Junior High School third form unit. I recall well the contact I had with your principal last year on the day of the decision to allow this middle school to proceed. Mr Dennis could not hide his very positive reaction to the decision - he was bubbling - and he told me the school community and staff were just as happy with the decision.
I think we can call this 'an historic occasion'. Tweedsmuir was Invercargill's first intermediate school way back in 1913 and now you're the South Island's first middle school - and only the 5th in New Zealand.
As I said, parents and staff have been very enthusiastic about the middle school idea and have been working towards it for years. I congratulate Alan Dennis on his vision and leadership, and your Board on its innovative work that gives Invercargill families another option in education.
Being a middle school gives you more than just a bigger roll. It opens up a wider range of subject choices to students, lets your school be more innovative, and provide more facilities for you all.
It also makes you a part of a more radical look at the structure of schools in New Zealand. The present system has developed over many years. As the school-leaving age has increased the traditional break points, built around two age-group arrangements that include the strict historical division between primary and secondary schools, become less relevant.
A number of secondary schools I've visited show me how they see senior secondary as separate from junior. This often involves treating older students differently - for instance mufti instead of a uniform. Many of the differences in the education sector came about through historic factors, which are now largely irrelevant. When, for example, should specialisation of teaching begin? There have been calls for it to start earlier than Form 3. My own view is that we should not feel constrained in either direction by the past. Specialisation should start where it works best for students and teachers.
Another example of the changes facing schools, that gives rise to a considerable issue for us to resolve this year, is the development of an Integrated Teaching Service with a Unified Pay System. Again Tweedsmiur with its midle school structure now bridges what in the past has covered a quite significant pay gap.
I have told secondary teachers everywhere I go that, like it or not, their primary sector colleagues have long felt it unfair that a pay system rewards them at a lesser rate just because they are primary teachers. Solving that problem is not simple - we need a framework that makes the relationship fair and acceptable to both sides.
The argument is not just about rates - it is about a sense of equity between the two. As long as a differential is based just on whether a person is a primary or a secondary teacher, the grievance will continue. Primary teachers will reject any arrangement that does not entrench the fundamental presumption behind the proposal; that is, a presumption of equity of treatment. Under an Integrated Teaching Service we would no longer look at the two sectors of the profession separately, but rather see it as a coherent whole.
Removing a sense of unfairness in any situation is far from easy. You have to be very careful in making a change not to create a new grievance. There will continue to be differentials in pay rates, but for a host of other reasons like qualifications, experience, competence and contribution to a school in many different ways.
We are the unfortunate ones who have to put dollar values on all factors, and hopefully come out with an arrangement that all teachers, whether primary or secondary, feel is fair. Sorting this out will be a big challenge for us later this year. I just hope we see a sense of responsibility and realism from all involved.
As we move into the 21st century, education, like so many of our activities, will have to adjust to more and more demands for variety and change. Tweedmuir has demonstrated it is willing to move on structure.
Though getting a job is a long way in the future for students here, time goes very quickly. You need to concentrate now on starting to build up the skills you'll need. Technology and mechanisation are playing their part too. Many traditional jobs are disappearing. Technology is taking over parts of others.
I'm not saying this to scare you. Technology is just another tool. I think this 'infotech revolution' offers more opportunity for an interesting life. Instead of following one narrow path you can be good at a variety of things. What it means, though, is that you have to come out of school with useful and adaptable skills, and be prepared to keep on learning, one way and another, all your life. Schools like Tweedsmuir give you the self-confidence and sense of achievement to meet the challenges ahead.
Your world today is very different from when I was at school. We sat at individual desks, not tables, and weren't allowed to talk at all in class. Shops weren't open at weekends - if you forgot your Mum's birthday till too late you were in real trouble, unless she wanted a pint of milk from the dairy. Computers were the size of rooms. Radio played only half an hour a night of pop music - people with their own record players were very popular. Even the teachers rode bikes to school - pushbikes, not motor.
And that's not really too long ago! So when you see how fast changes happen you realise that the world you're going to be working in will be very different from even the way it is now. Education gives you the skills to cope.
The Budget coming out at the end of June will see the considerable commitment we are willing to make for education. This Budget is the first part of a three-year plan that will build confidence and make the changes that matter in education.
The way you're learning here at Tweedsmuir is a good launching point for your future. Third formers have the equivalent of 1 teacher to every 14 students. As well as 'regular' subjects you can take accounting, Japanese, art, classics, French and more.
All of that gives you those basic, flexible and transferable skills - and I hope, a lot of fun.
I'm sure you're also enjoying your new surroundings. Your Board and community have made sure you have the latest computer technology and most modern furniture. I look to seeing your new classrooms shortly.
The school motto is "The will to do - the soul to dare". It's one for all of you to live to. In becoming a middle school your board, principal, teachers and wider community have certainly shown 'the will to do and the soul to dare'.
Thank you for inviting me to celebrate with Tweedsmuir Junior High School. Congratulations to everyone involved in creating this school. I wish you all the best for the future.