Speech to Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum on Raising Achievement

Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:22

Tēnā koutou katoa.

Welcome everyone, to the first national cross-sector forum for 2015. We’re in for another exciting year in education with more opportunities for further outbreaks of achievement.

Thank you for your contributions to that educational success and to the work we can do together to create more of it.

I’d like to especially acknowledge a few people.

Sir Brother Patrick Lynch, long time executive director of the Catholic Education Office who was knighted in the New Year Honours for his services to education. That says it all. Thank you, and congratulations Sir Patrick.

Tom Parsons, retiring from his presidency of the Secondary Principals Association. Thank you for your very constructive engagement with our education agenda, and for your unflinching support for what you consider best for kids.  Thank you also for running a school so dedicated to personalised learning pathways for the students of Queen Charlotte College.

Deborah James is stepping down from her role as Executive Director of the Independent Schools of NZ.  Thank you for so resolutely and graciously representing and advocating for our smallest part of the education sector (3.7 per cent), and for having the data to demonstrate that our independent schools are the top performing of independent schools in the world. Thank you.

All of us here today come from many different walks of life. Amongst us are teachers, businesspeople, representatives of tertiary institutions and unions, officials and at least one politician. We have many different interests, but there is one thing many of us have in common – we are parents.

And there is one thing all of us have in common – we all want the very best for New Zealand’s children.

That is why I am here today and that is why you are here.

Every parent wants the best for their kids.

As policy makers, employers, teachers we want the best for all our kids because that is the New Zealand way.

We believe every kid should have the opportunity to achieve to her or his potential. We want those things because they are right, but we also want them because they are in our collective interest.

The children who grow up to become entrepreneurs, artists, engineers, teachers, or whatever it is that they most want to be, enrich not only their lives, but the lives of all of us.

To that end I have set out an ambitious programme of work and I want to update you on my priorities for the year.

This is an exciting time for education in New Zealand. We have an education system that is among the best in the world and most young New Zealanders are getting what they need and doing well.

But ‘most’ is not enough. Our government is aspirational for every young person to get the best possible education so that they can be successful both at home and abroad. 

We all want our kids to have skills, to build good relationships, to be confident and engaged, to be prepared to apply themselves, and to personify the ‘Kiwi can-do’ attitude that characterises our nation.

More broadly, we want young people to travel, to think critically about the big issues, to understand our national and international obligations, and to play their part in building New Zealand for future generations.

When I think of someone who had the ‘Kiwi can-do’ attitude and number-8 wire approach on which we pride ourselves, I think of Sir Edmund Hilary.

He was a man of courage, determination and tenacity. He set an ambitious goal for himself, drew up a plan on how to achieve it, and worked hard to make it happen.

But he was also humble and practical, had a great sense of responsibility, and gave back to the community from whom he gained so much support, love and guidance.

This is what I want for all young people in New Zealand: to aim high, work hard, be successful, and have a great sense of responsibility.

The New Zealand education system can, and does, go a long way to setting the platform for these aspirations.

It opens doors to endless possibilities for our young people. Sir Ed’s lifelong passion for mountaineering was ignited on a school trip to Mt Ruapehu.

School has a huge impact on developing a child’s interests and passions, and helping them discover what they are good at. There is no end to what a quality education can provide for a child.

Who here has a smartphone?

Who of you knows each and every function your smartphone has?

Who of you knows how each and every function on your smartphone works?

A smartphone has many functions but most people do not know about all of them or how they all work.

The same can be said for education – there are so many possibilities, but many young people are not aware of them all and therefore are not maximising their time at school.

To address the gap between those who do well in education and those who don’t, we have sought to transform the education system into one where there are more options available.

We are creating smoother pathways right through from early childhood to tertiary education. We are fostering better collaboration between educators, and we are targeting resources where they are most needed.

We need to ensure that our education system delivers high quality teaching, leadership and engagement so that young New Zealanders develop the skills, knowledge, resourcefulness, resilience and capability they need to be successful life travellers in the 21st century.

We’re making great progress with kids starting earlier in education, staying longer, and leaving better qualified.

Early childhood participation rose to 96.1 per cent in the year to December 2014, which is the highest ever level and shows that the government is tracking well towards our target of having 98 per cent of children participate in ECE by 2016.

Provisional results show the achievement rate for NCEA Level 2 increased to 86.8 per cent in 2014 – a 7 percentage point overall increase since 2010.

And while we have made tremendous progress in raising the levels of achievement amongst Māori (63.3 per cent) and Pasifika (71.2 per cent) students, there is a way to go yet to achieve similar and sustainable outcomes.

Although these results show we are continuing to make great progress in education, the closer we get to our targets, the more challenging it is to make significant gains.

But we are committed to ensuring all young people achieve educational success so this is a challenge we accept.

Investing in Educational Success

Those who do not fare as well in our education system tend to be Māori, Pasifika, come from poorer homes, have special education needs, or a mix of these.

We must ensure that while we are encouraging those who are doing well to do even better, we are also lifting up those who are being left behind.

We need to make sure that a child’s travel along the pathway from early childhood to senior secondary, and into tertiary next steps, is as well supported as possible.

After a lot of hard work and effort over the last term, we are now seeing the implementation of the Investing in Educational Success initiative in schools across the country.

The quality of teaching and leadership are the two major in-school factors that affect educational achievement and we’re supporting that through new roles and the Communities of Schools that will work together to share best practice to tackle their shared goals.

At the end of last year I announced that I had approved the first 11 Communities of Schools to begin from term one this year.

These 11 Communities across New Zealand, from Auckland to Southland, are a big win for the tens of thousands of kids in the primary, intermediate, secondary and area schools within them.

Each of the Communities is working together and with parents to identify achievement challenges across a range of areas. These could include things such as student attendance, performance in reading or maths, transitions between different levels of school, or student wellbeing. Once identified, plans will be drawn up to meet those challenges.

The critical aspect is that the challenges will be specific to the Community and will reflect the particular needs of the students within it.

The collaboration between the schools will give each child a clear and connected pathway from early childhood through primary and secondary to their post-school options.

Over time, it will also improve the platforms for sharing excellent teaching practice and leadership, hardware and information, and shared back office services.

Schools across the country are becoming more and more innovative and modern in their teaching practices, and we have had hundreds of expressions of interest for potential Communities of Schools. Within the next few weeks I will be announcing the second tranche.

As I’ve indicated – and we all know - having the right leadership in place is critical.

Just this month I announced the first five schools to receive approval for the Principals Recruitment Allowance.

This funding of up to $50,000 per year for three years is intended to help struggling schools recruit principals with the right skills to meet the particular and significant challenges they face.

The schools that were granted approval to offer the allowance met the very clear criteria which include elements such as significant and long term underachievement, particularly for groups of kids most at risk, serious safety or wellbeing issues for students and/or staff, high principal turnover, poor family or whānau engagement, or a number of statutory interventions.

Leadership, as much as the quality of teaching, has a huge impact on a child’s learning and the Principals Recruitment Allowance goes a way towards making sure that the most capable principals are in the schools that need them most.

This move reflects one of the biggest challenges we have in our education system – and that is to recognise, celebrate and, in some measure, reward the overcoming of major educational challenges at least as much, if not more so than our current marker being the size of the school.

I would like us to see this achievement as mana enhancing across our system.

Special education

If we have good leadership in a school, that should translate into inclusion of all children in the classroom.

Special education is a priority for this government. We want to strengthen inclusion by improving the delivery of special education and providing more support in the classroom for teachers and young people with special education needs.

Last week, the Education Review Office released its report into Inclusive practices for students with special needs in schools.

The report showed that schools have become significantly more inclusive and welcoming towards children with special education needs.

It found that 78 per cent of schools in 2014 were found to be mostly inclusive, up from 50 per cent on the previous ERO report on inclusiveness in 2010.

It also found that just 1 per cent of schools had few inclusive practices, down from 20 per cent.

These findings show a sea change is underway.

This government set an aspirational target of 100 per cent of schools being either mostly inclusive, or having some inclusive practices, and this report shows that we’re nearly there with 99 per cent of schools having at least some inclusive practices.

Almost all schools surveyed are positive and confident about being fully inclusive and most have good systems and practices to support students with special education needs.

The report has some great examples of effective practices in schools and I am told by ERO that compared to what was available in 2010, there was no shortage of these examples so schools can be very proud of the progress made.

However, we know that there is still more work to do and we are committed to continuing to address special education needs.

Earlier this year I announced that 1500 students with special education needs would be the first of eventually about 4000 to benefit from additional teacher’s aide hours from Term One this year.

Through the In-Class Support initiative, these young people will be eligible for five teacher’s aide hours a week. The students receiving it have been identified as having on-going learning needs but do not meet the criteria for the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme funding.

We recognise that there are young people out there who do not qualify for ORS funding but who, with some extra support in the classroom, will have a better chance of overcoming learning difficulties and achieving educational success.

The support is not limited to the student receiving it – it will also have flow-on benefits for other students in the classroom, and of course, the teacher, so we see this as a very important investment.


The teachers in our schools are caretakers of our country’s most critical resource – the one we carry between our two ears.

We don’t have a generation to waste in a country as small, smart and sassy as ours so we must make sure that every one of our young people has the best opportunity to develop their potential, and to acquire the values, skills and knowledge that equip them to be successful in a 21st century world, society and marketplace.

Our education system is the engine room of that potential so we need to ensure that our teachers and education leaders from early childhood through to tertiary are in the best position to help our children and young people meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Just last month, I welcomed the passing of the Education Amendment Act (No 2) which establishes a new professional body for the education profession to replace the Teachers Council, called the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand (EDUCANZ).

EDUCANZ will provide strong leadership, further raise the status of teachers, and support quality teaching to ensure the profession is held in the high regard it deserves.

I welcome you to take a look at the hand-out which presents some of what the new council will be charged with, including:

  • Continuously raising the quality of the profession from initial teacher education to ever-increasing expertise on clearly defined career pathways;
  • Ensuring the highest standards of professional conduct and safety of students;
  • Advocacy for professional learning and development of the profession;
  • And partnering in education research and policy.

When I announced a couple of weeks ago that nominations for EDUCANZ were open, some of the sector groups declared a boycott of the nominations process on the basis that the education profession would have no control over the council.

However, this is quite the contrary. The education profession will in fact have more control over the council than the Ministry, and indeed more control than its predecessor the Teachers Council had.

We are seeking nominations for the nine positions that will make up the membership of the EDUCANZ governing council. Of those nine, five must be registered teachers with current practising certificates, but all must have a strong interest in the development and strengthening of the education profession.

Nominations close in less than two weeks, so I encourage all of you here today, if you know of an outstanding candidate or you believe you yourself have what it takes to be a founding member of EDUCANZ, get your nominations in quick. I have included information about nominations and how to submit them in your hand-out.

Funding and legislation review

These improvements that are happening are all in line with supporting a 21st century education system.

We have to be unafraid to break away from the mould and be innovative, forward-thinking and bold if we want to make big changes to ensure that we provide the best education system possible for the new generation.

While we have achieved a lot in the last term, there is always room for continuous improvement which is why another priority is to review the Education Act 1989 so that we are providing legislation to support a modern, student-centred education system.

Reviewing the funding systems for ECE and schooling is also on the list of priorities, so that we can make sure we are providing the best possible education for all kids.

This government is investing more than ever in education - $10.1 billion – so we need to ensure that this investment is spent in ways that will have the most benefit for all our kids.

Everyone plays a part

The gains we have made in education so far wouldn’t be possible without parents and whānau making sure their kids attend early childhood education or school, encouraging them and taking an active interest in what they are doing at school. They also wouldn’t be occurring without dedicated professionals providing those kids with the right skills and knowledge.

Parents, whānau, teachers and principals are working hard to make sure all young people achieve.

Education is a partnership between the formal system and communities of parents, organisations, and businesses. We all need to play our part and your presence here today shows you want to do your bit.

Thank you for your assistance and I wish you an enjoyable and productive day, and an exciting 2015 in education.