PPTA conference speech

Thank you for the invitation to address your conference. It’s great to be here.

I want to begin by acknowledging the contribution that you make, every day, to the education of young people.

I know that your job is one of the most challenging in New Zealand. But it is also one of the most important.

You have a huge impact on all of our young people. Not only on the quality of their education. But on their personal character; their future employment prospects, and on their roles as leaders and active participants in our nation.

Thank you for the difference that you are making.

As we approach the first anniversary of our government taking office later this month, I welcome the chance to talk about what we’ve done, what we’re doing, and what we hope to do in the future.

But first, I’d like to talk a little about how we want to operate. We came into government with a clear commitment to doing things differently, and a big part of that is about doing things with, rather than to, people.

For almost a decade those who have devoted their working lives to education have become very accustomed to having things done to them. That needed to change.

Consultation had come to be seen as the opportunity to comment on decisions that had already been taken. That’s no way to run an education system, much less a country.

So today, I want to talk about partnership.

About how working together can overcome challenges and allow us to reach new heights that cannot be achieved individually.

About the vital importance of rebuilding trust between government and the teaching profession.

About the power of collaboration when government not only says it is prepared to engage, but actively seeks out the views and expertise of trusted professionals.

Yes, that means you!

Our government’s vision for education is very clear.

We want a high quality public education system that provides all New Zealanders with lifelong learning opportunities so they all can develop their full potential, engage fully in society, be work-ready, and be able to lead rewarding and fulfilling lives.

On becoming Minister one of the first things I wanted to address was the undervaluing and the devaluing of the teaching profession’s thoughts and ideas when it came to education policy and decision-making.

For some time now the teaching profession have been conditioned to feel that their only real opportunity to have any meaningful input into education policy is once every two or three years when collective agreement negotiations come around.

We need a partnership that is deeper and more meaningful than that.

That’s going to require trust, compromise, and good faith on both sides.

Our government recognises that you all have vast expertise and experience in how our education system can be improved for all our children and young people.

That is why your organisation, along with your NZEI counterparts, is well represented in the reviews that we have underway as part of the Education Conversation.

Some of you will have attended the May Summits where we kicked off the Education Conversation.

At the Summits, we wanted people to lay the foundations for the next thirty years of education and learning in New Zealand.

I said that once this foundation was completed we would, just like building a home, then add the walls, windows and roof of our new education house.

Now, we are ready to begin our next phase of construction.

Between now and December the ideas for change we have received throughout the Education Conversation on the various reviews will feed into recommendations to Cabinet.

Then we’ll hold more consultation with you, and others, before proceeding to implement the changes that New Zealand wants to see, and which are long overdue.

Our approach isn’t about tinkering around the edges. It’s about tackling the big challenges and taking a much longer-term view.

The reviews of the NCEA and Tomorrow’s Schools are examples of battles the PPTA has been fighting for a very long time. We’ve listened, and we want to provide opportunities for you to help us co-design the answers.

Co-design and collaboration is something that the teaching profession has been crying out for over a very long time.

We’re now offering you that opportunity.

We won’t get it right every time, and the changes that I’ve already made to the review process for the NCEA reflect the fact that we didn’t get the model for the teaching profession’s engagement right the first time and I’m sorry for that.

The fact that we’ve now extended the timeframe and appointed a new professional advisory group for the NCEA review shows that our commitment to getting it right, to acting in a way that is genuinely collaborative, is very real.

Collaboration takes time, but I’m absolutely confident that the outcomes we achieve by working together will be far stronger than if we continue to work in parallel to each other.

I’d like to offer you some reassurance, however, that while we tackle the longer term challenges, we’re also very committed to addressing the issues in the here and now.

There were some things we had to act on immediately to fix our creaking education system. And we have.

First and foremost on the list has been tackling the critical teacher shortage.

Our government is committed to making teaching become one of the most highly valued and sought after careers there is.

In my first few weeks as Minister of Education I flew to Auckland and met with principals and representatives of the PPTA and NZEI to identify the quickest things we could put in place to deal with teacher shortages.

I knew we needed to move quickly, and I know we’ll need to keep moving quickly for some time yet to get on top of a teacher shortage that has built up over the past decade.

It will be clear to you all that we started in serious catch-up mode. That this issue has been ignored, left hanging, and neglected in previous years.    

In December, I announced a $9.5 million teacher supply package to support more graduates into permanent teaching positions, support experienced teachers back into the profession and recruit new graduates into teaching.

Budget 2018 included $370 million for 1500 new teacher places by 2021 to meet population growth.

We also trebled that initial investment in immediate teacher supply measures with an extra $20 million, and we will do more.

So far we’ve:

  • Funded over 1000 enrolments in the Teacher Education Refresh (TER) programme, removing cost barriers so teachers can stay in, or return to, teaching
  • Approved almost 190 overseas relocation grants, making it easier for Kiwi teachers to return home and encouraging overseas teachers to teach here
  • Expanded the Auckland Beginner Teachers programme to 60 places in 2018 and a further 60 in 2019
  • Increased the number of new teachers training through Teach First to 80 in 2018 and 2019
  • Made 300 teachers who started their teaching in 2018 eligible for the Voluntary Bonding Scheme to encourage them to work in decile 2 and 3 Auckland schools, and nationwide in some subjects and in Māori medium kura.

 We’ve also recently started an advertising campaign to attract to our shores a greater numbers of experienced teachers from overseas. It is hoped that we can recruit about 400 new teachers this way.

 I want to be clear at this point that I don’t see relying on overseas recruitment as the ultimate solution to our teacher shortage. But recruiting new trainees, and equipping them with the skills they need, will take some time.

A new ad campaign to promote teaching as a career is now underway.

I’ve asked the Ministry to work in partnership with your representatives, and others, to develop a comprehensive, future-focused education workforce strategy. It will consider how to attract, recruit and retain the teachers we need to help every child achieve educational success within the public system.

The first stage of this strategy will be completed by December. It will cover early learning, primary and secondary education, the learning support workforce, Māori medium and English medium and Māori language learning in all settings. It will be a first for New Zealand education.

We know we have a huge challenge right in front of us when it comes to teacher supply, and for some schools, yes, it is reaching crisis point.

The previous government oversaw a 40 percent reduction in the number of teacher trainees and we can’t turn that around overnight.

We’ve taken some immediate steps to plug immediate gaps, and we will do more.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your help. You are the best ambassadors for your profession.

While I understand your frustration that things have reached this point, we won’t turn it around, possibly ever, if the message our prospective future teachers get from today’s teachers is that it’s a profession not worth joining.

As I ask you to commit to championing your profession, I’m giving you my commitment that our government will work with you to address the very legitimate issues that you’ve been raising, from the workload associated with NCEA through to the relentless focus on compliance.

In almost every school visit I’ve undertaken over the past decade, one issue has been raised loud and clear – the state of our learning support system, or special education as it was previously known.

My associate Minister Tracey Martin is as committed to fixing learning support as I am, and she’s made it one of her major focuses.

For too long, these children and young people have been poorly served by our education system, and the burden that a lack of funding in this area has placed on you as teachers has been completely unacceptable.

Budget 2018, provided the biggest increase in learning support in over a decade.

This funded around 1000 extra ORS places from next year.

Teacher-aide funding got an extra $59.3 million.

About 2,900 deaf and hard-of-hearing students and approximately 1,500 low-vision students got more help.

And around 1,900 more children with high needs in early childhood education will now receive support each year.

Another challenge we’ve taken immediate action to address is the run-down, over-crowded state of some of our school classrooms and facilities.

We’ve funded new schools, more new classrooms, and classroom upgrades, and we’re working on a 10-year plan to ensure that you all have the quality learning environments you deserve.

In early childhood education, the first across-the-board rate increase in a decade provided a much needed funding boost.

In the House, we’re taking action on the issues that you’ve raised over the past decade where your voice was ignored.

Charter Schools are being abolished. National standards have been abolished. The legislation passed by the last government that could’ve seen young people enrolled in online learning rather than school will be repealed.

Just over two weeks ago we passed a law change to give you back your own professional regulatory body, the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand. From next year, you will once again elect the majority of the Council. It’s a democratic voice that never should’ve been taken from you.

More broadly, this government has been absolutely clear about what it thinks is important. Before we took office, and after, you told us what one of the biggest problems is that you face in trying to educate our children and young people actually was.

It’s that “P” word. No not that one. Not the one that got thousands needlessly evicted from their homes. No. The one you didn’t hear a lot from the previous government. “Poverty.”

That’s why too many of our kids turn up to school hungry. Too tired and too undernourished to learn.

That’s why too many of our kids living in damp, squalid rentals turn up at our hospitals – some of which we found are as rotting as the houses in which they live - with preventable illnesses rather than at turning up at school.

That’s why too many of our kids never settle in one school but are always moving, or being moved on. Never feeling they belong. Never having friends. Never feeling that that they are ever settled.

That’s why many parents can’t afford school fees. Or the funding for that school trip that will give their kids the experiences that will feed their curiosity and their imagination.

I’m telling you this because what it shows is that to give every kid the best education we can, to give them every opportunity we can, we won’t do it by fixing education alone.

That’s why my good friend and colleague Jacinda Ardern and the government she leads is committed not just to building the world’s best education system, but to making New Zealand the best place to be a child.

That’s why we announced a families package to lift 88,000 children out of poverty by 2021. By that date, the poorest 385,000 of our families will be receiving an extra $75 dollars on average.

That package will cost $5.53 billion over five years. What does that mean for those families?

It means help with the rent or the power bill, a coat or a pair of shoes to keep their kids warm and dry.

It means dinner or lunch for many kids. Or a bit of extra money for that digital device, that school trip or that school uniform.

It means more kids turning up at your schools well and feed, and with a place to call home - ready and able to learn.

In a very real sense that money is an investment in education. Because it’s funding to help many of our most needy kids get to the school gate in a fit state to learn in the first place.

Did you know that about 42,000 children go to hospital every year with infectious and respiratory diseases that are largely the result of cold, damp, mouldy homes?

You of all people don’t have to imagine the impact on those children’s learning. As a government, we have committed to help tens of thousands of Kiwi families to insulate their homes to keep our kids healthy and warm. 

Keeping more of our kids healthy and ready to learn is also why we are extending free GP visits and prescriptions to children under 14. An estimated 56,000 children will benefit from this change.

It’s also why we are expanding the nurses in schools programme to cover all public decile 4 secondary schools. That means an extra 24,000 students will have easy access to support, care and advice from a nurse at their school.

We can do better as a country than having our children attend school from the back of a car seat. Or at best, from the bedroom of a motel.

That’s why we have all committed to building 100,000 affordable homes for New Zealand families and to building 6,400 new public houses for families in need.

Why am I raising all of this?

The funding for all these things, and we all agree they’re important, come from the same limited funding pool.

So let’s come back to education. We do want to spend more on education.  But we can’t make up for nine years of educational and wider social neglect in one Budget, or even one term of government. I think all of you know that.

I also think you all know that the needs of our lowest paid families, of our broken hospitals, of our failure of a mental health system, of those without homes, and those without hope are sadly, are every bit as great and must also be addressed. 

It’s not about either or. It’s not about education funding verses other funding.

You know well-fed kids learn better.

Healthy kids learn better.

Kids with a home, with stability, with a family, a whānau and a community that can be there and support them, learn better.

Kids accessing the disability support services or the mental health services they need learn better.

We are spending more on education than any government ever before and we will spend even more over the coming months and years.

But spending to improve the wellbeing of all our children and young people isn’t just about spending on education.

It’s about boosting the incomes of low and middle income families, it includes pay equity settlements for our lowest paid workers, in education and elsewhere, it includes heath spending; housing spending and changing legislation to improve the rights of renting families. And much more besides.

So, back to our partnership.

I’m not asking you to bear with us as we address years of educational neglect and underfunding. You are bearing enough already.

I’m not asking you to be patient either. Because being patient has never brought about change for those we both represent or those we both stand for.

No. I’m asking you to do something much, much harder than either of those things.

I’m asking you to work in partnership with us, and to rebuild your trust with government that has been so abused in recent years, as we together build the world’s best education system for all our children and young people.

That’s hard mahi. It’s the hard mahi of government. It means we have to make the hard choices, along with the easy ones.

Let me be clear. The choices we have to make together are not between things we need to do and the things we don’t. That would be easy.

No. What we have to do is to choose between all the things that we need to do to fix our education system, and our society.

We all know we can’t do everything at once. So we need to decide what comes first; what comes next, and what comes after that?

I know many of you are frustrated and want us to go faster.

But let me tell you a secret. My cabinet colleagues and I also want a whole lot more. We, like you, are impatient for change.

For partnerships to be enduring, both parties agree to share and to work together. That’s what we are doing.

Occasionally, compromises need to be made. Presently, that’s what’s being asked of us both. I don’t always like having to do that. And I know you don’t either.

I can’t say much, for obvious reasons, about the pay negotiations going on at the moment.

But I was struck by a recent cartoon on them. It showed two striking teachers. One turns to the other and says, “Aren’t you worried that, with all this industrial action the government could get voted out?” The other replies “Yes, so we’ve no time to loose have we?”

Unlike the characters in the cartoon, I know that you’re taking a longer term view than that. Because I know that you know that we won’t fix this in the next two years. We’re going to need to work together for longer than that to achieve the real and meaningful change that we’re all committed to.

In any relationship, there is the odd tiff. I’m okay about that. I will always defend the right of unions to take action on behalf of their members.

But I’m asking you to try something different. Genuine collaboration. A new way of working together that gives the teaching profession a real and meaningful voice in the education decision-making process.

For us in government, it means empowering you as a profession and letting go a little bit more. For you, it means thinking beyond the current pay negotiations and embracing a genuine opportunity to forge a new way of working together.

When John F Kennedy decided America would go to the moon, he said America should do this, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard… because the goal organises and measures the best of American energy and skill.”

We’re not going to the moon. Although I’ve been thinking lately that that’s where some in the sector would like to send me. But together, we are doing something that’s hard.

That is, we have agreed to work, in partnership, to build the world’s best education system for all our children and young people.

That’s a big, but achievable, goal.

America didn’t get to the moon in one year. But it got there. And, as unionists, you know that few efforts to advance the cause of working people, or our most marginalised, have ever been achieved in one day; one week, or one year.

Our joint efforts for a better education system won’t ‘get there’ in one year either. But I think we have shown, by our actions, and by our commitment to involving you, that we are determined to get there.

New Zealand is on the cusp of huge educational change. All of us know we can do so much better than this. And, if we keep working together, we will get there.

Thank you.

For supporting our kids.

For your support and your encouragement of us.

And yes, for your criticism as well.

We all want the same thing and all of it only makes our partnership stronger.

I wish you well for the rest of your conference and look forward to working with you all in the months and years ahead.