Speech to NZEI Te Riu Roa Conference 2019

The Challenge of Collaboration

I’m delighted to have this opportunity to address the NZEI conference, the first opportunity I’ve had to do so since I became Minister of Education almost two years ago.

Some of you may recall that during your conference last year I was on parental leave following the birth of our second child.

The year prior to that, I attended the NZEI conference dinner here in Rotorua with my then nearly 1 year old son, Charlie. I arrived worried that Charlie would prove a distraction. It turns out the biggest challenge was getting him back at the end of the evening when it was time to go home.

As we gathered here two years ago, we were waiting. The 2017 general election hadn’t delivered a clear verdict, and formation of our next government was going to be a matter for negotiation between the parties.

While the nature and makeup of our next government wasn’t clear at that time, the challenges in education it was going to face were clear.

A decade of underfunding and neglect had taken their toll. Workforce morale was at an all-time low after nine years of being spoken down to, or worse, ignored.

Too much emphasis on compliance and accountability, and not enough emphasis on teaching and learning, had eroded trust.

Implementation of the curriculum had been narrowed in too many places to focus only what was easy to measure and record against simplistic targets.

Workloads had grown exponentially, but not enough of that extra energy was flowing through to the places where it could actually make a difference to learning, progress and achievement.

Far too much of it was being devoted to bureaucratic, compliance focused activity and not enough to teaching and learning.

Trust between government and the teaching profession was at rock bottom.

The announcement of a new Labour / NZ First coalition government, supported by the Green Party, opened the door to a new way of doing things. It provided an opportunity to hit the reset button and look at old challenges with fresh eyes.

When I became Minister of Education I knew that we would need to move from a command and control model of decision making to one based on true collaboration.

But I also knew that we were faced with a number of pressing issues that needed urgent attention and action.

We moved quickly to address the issues that you told us were the most important ones for you as the experts working in the sector.

We abolished national standards, because we agreed with you that they weren’t helpful. They were neither national nor standard; they were time consuming to administer; and they didn’t actually help kids to learn or teachers to teach.

We abolished the charter school model, because we wanted to make sure that every student could access our National Curriculum through a strong, public education system, and because we put a premium on the professional qualifications and experience of registered teachers.

We reinstated the role of teachers on your own professional body and renamed it as the Teaching Council to reflect its true role.

We took swift action to address the teacher shortage, which was already at crisis levels. We funded free refresher training, introduced more support for beginning teachers, increased financial incentives for those entering teacher training, started a major recruitment drive, and provided recruitment and relocation support for schools seeking to attract teachers.

The changes we made upfront, and the swiftness with which we made them, were a clear demonstration of our commitment as a government to a quality, public education system, where teaching and learning are at the heart of decision-making.

As Minister of Education, I’ve attempted to change the way we engage with the sector and all of the stakeholders in it.

We’ve taken a collaborative approach to what we do.

Just over a year ago, at our Education Summits in Christchurch and Auckland, we committed to building the world’s best education system for all New Zealanders.

Over 48,000 New Zealanders, including many of you, responded with enthusiasm to our call for change. You have taken part in many of the conversations about change in education and given us your ideas.

Now, in the second half of 2019, and while there are still conversations to be had, the future shape of our education system is beginning to emerge. We are starting to see the results of our collective effort at transformation.

The draft Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities that I released recently captures the vision and the values that came out of that very broad consultation process.

The National Education Growth Plan that I’ve released over the past few months responds to your feedback that government has been just too slow in responding to the pressure created by roll growth.

We’ve already brought forward over $1 billion in capital spending so we can get new classrooms where they are needed a lot faster so you don’t end up teaching in libraries, hallways and draughty school halls because your school is over-crowded.

A new draft strategic plan for early childhood education, He Taonga Te Tamati, has been out for consultation and we’re in the final stages of digesting that feedback and finalising the plan.

The Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce produced some bold recommendations for change and we asked them to take them on the road, around the country, so that everyone with an interest could have their say and shape their final recommendations.

The final Taskforce report has now been received and will be released, alongside the government’s response to it, in the coming month.

Through our conversations, you’ve told us resoundingly of your concern that some of our most vulnerable young people aren’t getting the support that they need to thrive in education.

That’s why over two budgets we’ve out over $600 million more funding into learning support. That’s more ORS places, more early intervention, more speech and language therapy, more ESOL tuition, and more support for hearing and visually impaired students.

New Zealanders told us they wanted more of their own stories told within our curriculum, so working with you, we’ve made a commitment to make New Zealand History content an integral part of our curriculum at all levels by 2022.

And young people and teachers alike has stressed the importance of cultural competence in the classroom. That’s why we’ve put more funding into programmes like Te Hurihanganui, so that every teacher can access the professional development they need to respond to the needs of all their students.

At the Education Summits I said that change had too often failed in education in the past because it had been imposed from the top; rather than worked through in collaboration with others.

I said that we would change that. That we would work together with principals and teachers and with parents, children and young people, those with disabilities or in need of learning support, and our Māori and Pacific communities, to build a more inclusive, responsive and equitable education system for all our learners.

I meant what I said then. And I still do.

That’s why this Government insists that educational change is no longer decided by bureaucrats and politicians with no input from those implementing their plans – that’s you - or any input from those impacted by the final result – that’s our children and young people, and their parents.

That’s why I wanted so many of your to be part of the many Ministerial reference and advisory groups we have set up to shape the future of our education system.

I have been criticised for working with you in this way. In particular, those who never consulted you about anything seem rather put out that I am always working with you on everything.

I make no apologies for that. Proper and sustainable changes need time. They need to be worked through and agreed with those being asked to make them. Otherwise they fail. And as you know, our children and young people deserve better than that.

For nearly two years now, we’ve been working with you to redesign almost our entire education system. We want to build a better system for all our learners. And for all of you, as education professionals, as well.

I know that you’re as impatient for progress as we are, and I also know that there are some areas where we don’t need more collaboration and consultation before we start to take action.

I know that cost remains a barrier to far too many young people achieving to their full potential in education, and that’s why we’re increasing funding for

schools so they don’t have to rely on parental donations and scrapping NCEA fees.

We’ve also committed to replacing the decile funding system with a new formula that will provide far better equity across our schools.

It was the announcement of this decision last week that highlighted to me that we’ve still got a way to go when it comes to rebuilding trust and creating an environment in which true collaboration can really flourish.

As I listened to an interview with one principal on the radio driving to work last week, I realised that there are still some parts of the sector that are hard-wired to react to any government announcement with cynicism and even anger.

The criticism of the move to an equity funding approach could only have come from someone who hadn’t troubled themselves with the burden of establishing the details of what was proposed before bursting forth with criticism.

Criticism that is well-informed and constructive can play a really useful role in building trust and improving decision making.

Criticism that is ill-informed and destructive reinforces an environment where true collaboration is next to impossible.

True collaboration doesn’t just involve teachers and the government working together.

True collaboration gives all stakeholders a voice, including young people and their whanau.

True collaboration requires openness to three other ‘C’s – compromise, creativity and change.

True collaboration doesn’t mean government abrogates its responsibility to govern, it means we work together with all those who have relevant expertise and a relevant perspective to shape sound decisions.

Finally, true collaboration means resisting the urge to pick up a microphone every time we hear something we might disagree with, and opt for picking up the phone instead.

The introduction of dedicated Learning Support Coordinators is another example that highlights we’ve still got a way to go when it comes to establishing a truly collaborative environment.

We have heard for a long time from you that the Government needs to fund dedicated learning support roles in schools.

We’ve now allocated $217 million to getting the first Learning Support Coordinators into schools and kura from the start of 2020, with more to come in future years.

This is a huge commitment on the part of the Government.

The Learning Support Coordinator role responds to the recommendations made by the 2016 Select Committee Inquiry into Identification and Support for Children and Young People with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Autism Spectrum Disorders in Primary and Secondary Schools.

The LSC is a new role created specifically to help address learning support needs in schools and learning support clusters. It will be a permanent, fully funded role rather than funded through staffing entitlement.

We agreed to make this extra funding available because we want it to be dedicated to the specific task of learning support coordination.

This role is intended to bring the full capacity of an experienced worker to this important mahi, without the pressure or distraction of other responsibilities.

The role will work to identify and plan for the learning support needs of all children and young people in the school or kura, including those with moderate needs, and to bring in specialist help to support classroom teachers.

They will also have responsibility for the school’s learning support register, which will free up time for the SENCO where schools continue with that role.

It was never going to be possible for 623 LSCs to provide coverage for 2500 schools at a ratio of 1:500, so some schools were always going to miss out in this first round.

But it’s important to remember that it’s just that, a first round, and we’ve made a commitment to all schools having access to this support in the future.

I’ve been disappointed to see some in the sector mount a campaign against having Learning Support Coordinators, with some going as far as suggesting the roles should be boycotted.

I fail to see how stopping some of our most disadvantaged young people having access to extra support is in any way a principled-position.

I’m asking all of you to work with us to make the roll-out of Learning Support Coordinators a success. Getting the first tranche of coordinators in place will provide an opportunity to test the role in practice so that it can be further refined if it needs to be.

If you have some ideas about how the role could be adjusted in future, or how the next tranche could be allocated, there will be ample opportunity to contribute that feedback.

Because that’s the thing about collaboration, it isn’t just a one-off thing, it’s an ongoing approach.

If we’re going to rise to the huge challenges ahead of us, we’re going to have to work together.

And in a whole range of areas, we already are.

For example, our work following the abolition of national standards to return the focus back to the full curriculum and genuine learner progress has been a highly collaborative approach between the sector reference group, the Ministerial Advisory Group and the Ministry.

It’s a good example of what can be achieved when people work together to build on our existing strengths to design and implement change that improves the system for our learners. I look forward to seeing the next stages of collaborative work.

I have been a keen supporter of the new Accord that we agreed as part of the recent collective negotiations. I see it as a way to reset the relationship and how we work together.

Sometimes our views may differ, but partners work together to resolve things.

I am always prepared to listen, and I’m confident that our overall objectives for education are well aligned with the ideas and values of your members.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about school teachers this morning, but I’d be remiss addressing an NZEI conference if I didn’t mention two other vitally important workforces, our school support staff and our early childhood teachers.

Negotiations on the support staff collective agreement, the last of the big collective agreements we will negotiate this term of government, are now well underway.

But while they may be last chronologically, I don’t see teacher aides and other support staff as being at the back of the queue.

They play a vital role in schools, and I will be focussing on making sure that we do a good job for them.

Work is underway to address pay equity for teacher aides. For the first time, we will know more about the work of teacher aides than we ever have before.

More than 800 job descriptions have been assessed, interviews held with over 50 teacher aides, their supervisors and their principals in a range of school settings.

Four comparator roles have been identified that are male-dominated. This means we can make a thorough assessment on equitable pay for teacher aides. We are pushing ahead to ensure that teacher aide remuneration is equitable with comparable roles in male dominated workforces.

We are approaching these discussions with NZEI Te Riu Roa and the NZ School Trustees Association in a spirit of cooperation and partnership. And this is what I would like to see in our future work together.

In early childhood education, I know that the recent Kindergarten settlement has exacerbated the inequities facing teachers working in other parts of the sector.

During the last government, there was no flow-through from the Kindergarten collectives to the rest of the sector. The salary component of funding rates remained frozen for a decade.

That’s a huge legacy to confront, and it’s going to take us some time to work our way through that, but I do want to assure you that teachers working in the wider ECE sector have not been forgotten.

Finally, now that we have reached agreement with you on pay for teachers and principals, we’ve got an exciting opportunity to really embed a truly collaborative working relationship.

Thank you for your goodwill. Thank you for your passion and your commitment. Thank you for all that you do to ensure that every young New Zealander gets the educational opportunities that they deserve.

Let’s make the most of the opportunity that we now have to work together to make a significant difference to the future of education in New Zealand.