Reflections on ISTP 2014

Monday, March 30, 2015 - 11:17

Tēnā koutou katoa and warm Pacific greetings.

It is my great privilege to speak to you all at this fifth International Summit on the Teaching Profession 2015 here in Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Thank you for the invitation to share my reflections as the 2014 host of the ISTP and as New Zealand’s Education Minister, and for the opportunity to offer my thanks once again to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Education International, and to New Zealand’s own teacher unions – the Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) and the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) – for their support and collaboration in organising the Wellington Summit.

It was a wonderful opportunity for New Zealand as I am sure it will be for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. I know what a lot of organising goes with the honour, so I want to thank in advance our hosts for what I am sure will be another valuable contribution to our thinking, our challenges, and our networking.

Thank you also for hosting us at this spectacularly beautiful location – national parks are a proud feature of the New Zealand landscape and culture too, and it’s a privilege to be in one of yours. We appreciated the authentic touch of a moose running across our path as we arrived, and the chill temperature provides a nice homely feel for us as we head into winter and you prepare to welcome spring!

The Summit is a tremendous forum and I first want to acknowledge the Secretary of Education for the United States of America, Arne Duncan, whose idea it was to set up this meeting and its structure in 2011. Political leaders, teacher union representatives, academics and researchers, and teacher professionals from the world’s top performing education systems and nations all coming together to share their successes and their challenges, and learn from each other about strengthening the teaching profession and raising student achievement. We all have a huge stake in this so it’s important that we work together to get the outcomes we are seeking.

I would next like to thank again all of those who made the hop, skip and very long jump over the Pacific to join us in the Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearoa New Zealand last year. We broadened our representation inviting our fellow Pacific nation ministers to also attend and their participation enriched both ours and their experience. I’m delighted to see that CMEC has such great representation at this Summit too.

The 2014 Summit saw over 400 participants from 26 countries come to Wellington and totally enter into the spirit of the meeting, as well as participate in the Festivals of Education we ran alongside of it, and take time to visit some of our education agencies and pop into some of our early learning centres, schools, kura, and universities. New Zealanders were delighted to play host to these very curious and enquiring delegations and we thank you for your interest.

Banff has taken over the reins from Wellington and I trust that everyone here this year will gain as much value as we did. And do. Since my first attendance in 2012 we have used the Summit as an external benchmark of the progress we have made each year in our high level commitments. New Zealand takes very seriously the commitments we make each year at the Summit.

And so it was at last year’s Summit we published our report card from the previous Summits, which reflected the progress we are making. 

We also had very clear objectives for the Wellington Summit.

We wanted New Zealanders to have a clear picture that our education system is top performing, but with some specific challenges; that our teaching profession is one of the best in the world but needs strengthening in some particular areas; that our levels of achievement are very high but not yet for all.

We wanted to shift the public conversation to a focus on celebrating teaching excellence and investigating best practice in teaching and leadership.

Hosting the Summit has helped in working toward this goal. We used the Summit as a platform for domestic conversations, national events, and regional activities to value and strengthen the teaching profession, raise student achievement and celebrate education excellence.

During and after the Summit, there was overwhelmingly positive feedback from the profession and the media, and a strong focus on teaching excellence. That momentum was anchored by a $360 million Investing in Educational Success initiative to recognise our best teaching and leadership skills, based in systematic collaboration within newly formed communities of schools, engaging parents and families in the setting of achievement challenges.

That initiative is fully underway now and I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the PPTA membership of secondary teachers and principals and its president, Angela Roberts, for seeing and seizing the opportunity to work together. I look forward to also continuing the work in progress now with the NZEI.

We also launched our Thank a Teacher website, our inaugural national education excellence awards in the name of and presented by the Prime Minister together with a new teacher innovation fund.  And, we legislated for a statutorily independent new professional body.

The Wellington Summit was part of the overall picture that helped illuminate our direction of travel. I’m pleased to report that in a 10-year Mood of the Nation poll released late last month education is reported at the highest level of positivity felt from the public that it has been in over a decade!

But we are not complacent. There is, as always, more to do.

The discussions in Wellington built on previous Summits and focussed on the ways that high quality teaching can translate into educational excellence, equity and inclusiveness for all our students.

Our modern future-focussed economies demand well-qualified people and a highly skilled workforce. Students leaving our schooling system now need a broad range of skills and competencies, knowledge and knowledge building capabilities, critical thinking, problem solving, resourcefulness and creativity.

The quality of teaching and leadership are the most important in-school factors in equipping our students to be successful at home and abroad. This needs to be matched with strong family involvement and high community expectations.

So, stepping up to the challenges of achieving educational excellence and equity for our students to be successful at home as well as be globally competitive, the 2014 Summit focussed on three key areas of discussion:

  • How can high quality teachers and leaders be attracted to the schools of greatest need
  • What are the levers for increasing equity in increasingly devolved education systems
  • How are learning environments created that address the needs of all children and young people.

Many nations grapple with these challenges.

It was recognised during the 2014 Summit that our education systems need to incentivise teachers and leaders to work in schools with the greatest need, build collaborative cultures which improve teacher self-efficacy and quality, and engage parents and students in their educational journeys so that they have a stake and commitment in their future.

Similar conclusions were drawn in the discussion on increasing educational equity in our increasingly devolved schooling systems.

Participants acknowledged that as our societies grow increasingly diverse, teachers are facing challenges in responding to the various needs of their students. Teachers now require the training and pedagogical skills to tailor their teaching practices to respond to a wider range of cultural needs and competencies.

The discussions saw that these challenges could be met through better professional learning and support to develop and share skills, especially through professional learning communities. They also recognised that information and communication technology would enable the development of new learning environments with the flexibility to respond to the different learning needs of students.

The discussions at the 2014 Summit and previous Summits have challenged New Zealand and helped to inform our policy responses to the educational challenges that our nation faces.

As I indicated earlier New Zealand has invested in a number of changes to improve our education system. We have also set goals and targeted funding to increase participation at early childhood and attainment of our minimum senior school qualification.

We are within 2 per cent of our early childhood goal of 98 per cent participation by 2016; and while we have exceeded our 85 per cent minimum attainment goal overall for school leavers, our commitment to education equity means we still have more work to do with our minority populations. Even here, however, we have seen a generational shift by Maori and Pasifika through a relentless focus on data, success for every student, and our mantra “from numbers to names to needs”.

We are also working to bring our classrooms into the 21st century and help respond to the increasingly diverse learning needs of our students through modern physical learning environments, as well as a managed network of ultra-fast fibre optic broadband, access to high quality data 24/7, and a virtual portal which connects teachers and students with each other and educational providers to access a wider range of educational resources. We’ve just launched our parent portal on the managed network as well.

These policy responses to the educational challenges that New Zealand faces have been informed by the ISTP and the access to the experts and evidence that the Summits annually facilitate. They demonstrate the immense value that this Summit has – good ideas are inevitable when bringing together the best teachers, leaders and experts from the top performing education systems in the world. It is a pleasure to be in your company.

As so to our hosts, the Canadian Ministers of Education, and to the Banff 2015 International Summit on the Teaching Profession; let’s begin.