Speech to National Cross Sector Forum –Shifting the Levers of Education
Tēnā koutou katoa. Welcome. It’s a pleasure to be here in the company of so many people who are working to give our kids the best possible start. I’d also like to acknowledge the presence of my ministerial colleague Nikki Kaye who is doing a terrific job, as Associate Minister of Education, of getting school infrastructure into a fit state for the 21st Century and the presence of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Education David Seymour who is as committed to raising achievement for all students as I am.
As you’d expect on Budget day, I intend to outline for you the education component of this year’s Budget, but, before we get to that I want to tell you a story.
Recently I spent a really insightful morning with a very smart Parliamentary colleague in his electorate and as we travelled we talked about education. And, as we talked, it became apparent to me that the Big (Education) Picture wasn’t as clear to him as it is to those of us here in this room. He was keenly interested in what was happening in early childhood education and schools in his electorate but he didn’t have the larger education picture.
That’s not because he doesn’t care. He does. And it’s not because he‘s incapable of getting it. He got it very fast when I laid it out for him. He was really excited about it! But, he’s busy with a whole lot of other stuff.
In that regard he’s not unusual. As I travel around the country I hear a lot of suggestions about how we might improve this school or that early childhood education service. Some are practical, some are impractical. Quite a lot of the remedies proposed to me boil down to my just telling schools, or early childhood services, what to do. A surprising number of those suggestions come from other education professionals. “Tell them to stop poaching our kids”; “tell them to teach this way”. While I understand the impulse, that sort of advice betrays a lack of understanding of how our education system works, let alone how the sector would respond!
As a by the way one of the express purposes of these Forums – national and regional – is for y’all to “tell” yourselves! Too many issues are escalated to the Ministry, the Education Review Office or me before they need to be. I’m invigorated by the commitment, conviction and cussedness of those I meet around the country who seek to persuade, advocate, lambast and educate me. But my challenge to the profession, to you all, is to spend more of that energy seeking solutions to the issues you feel strongly about among yourselves – outside your usual circle. Prod and persuade each other!
We have a devolved system in which most of the decisions about who attends what schools, what is taught in those schools and how it is taught are made by individual schools, parents and school boards.
Much though I would occasionally like to be able to tell teachers and principals what to do, that is as it should be. The people who are best placed to know the needs of individual kids are those kids’ families and teachers. They are the experts, not me.
In these circumstances, the question for me as a Minister and my colleagues in government is how do we help our teachers and principals to better prepare our kids for the future.
We have an education system that has served New Zealand pretty well for a long time. It produces well-rounded, curious, resourceful individuals who do this country proud.
However, we also know that there are some things we need to do better. Our results in the OECD’s international PISA survey have flat-lined, our kids are not doing as well at maths as they should, we don’t have as many maths, science, technology and engineering graduates entering the teaching profession as we would like and we have particular groups of kids who are under-achieving.
There are some who argue that the solution is simply to pour a whole lot more money into our education system. But there are two problems with that approach.
The first is that we don’t have an inexhaustible pipeline of money to pour into the system. In this year’s Budget we are for the first time increasing Vote Education to more than $11 billion. That is more than we will be spending on police, defence, transport, conservation and foreign affairs combined. Add in what we are spending on tertiary education and the total rises to over $14 billion. Every additional dollar that we spend on education is a dollar that we do not have available for health, welfare, preserving our forests and rivers or keeping our roads safe. Education is critical to New Zealand’s future, but we have other priority areas as well. Every Budget is a balancing act.
Secondly, history has shown us that simply increasing the amount we spend on education does not automatically lift achievement; it is the quality of the investment that counts, not the quantity.
Socio-economic factors can have an impact on educational outcomes which is why we last month became the first government in 43 years to lift real benefit rates for beneficiaries with children. It is also why we support breakfast in schools programmes and target a wide range of assistance to poorer families. However, I do not agree with those who argue that economic disadvantage is an insurmountable barrier to learning. If it was, I, a kid who grew up in a remote, poor East Coast community would not be standing here. Nor, I suspect, would a number of you. At last count almost 97 per cent of our kids were participating in early childhood education. Once kids begin school we have them in our classrooms for 30 hours a week 40 weeks a year. All over the country early childhood services, schools and teachers are using that time to make a difference. The challenge for us as policy makers is to identify what works, support ECE providers, Communities of Learning, schools and teachers to provide it and ensure other teachers know about it.
How are we doing that? By shifting and lifting the levers of the system to better support our early childhood educators, school teachers and principals to make a difference.
Many of you will be familiar with elements of what is known within the Ministry as the EWP - Education Work Programme; some of you will be familiar with all of it. Apologies to those of you who are, but I’m going to briefly detail the major pieces of the education puzzle.
As discussed we have a system that serves most of our students pretty well, but clearly needs to be modernised to meet the challenges of the 21st century and to ensure our kids and our economy can be locally and globally competitive. It needs to push those who are already doing well to do better. It also clearly needs to do a better job of meeting the needs of groups who have not historically been well-served. And all of this needs to happen systematically rather than by extra initiatives, luck or goodwill.
So what are we doing?
Firstly, we have embarked on an update of the 27-year-old Education Act. Thank you to those of you who participated in the consultation process that took place last year. No decisions have been taken yet, but I am hopeful we can agree on an updated Act that puts raising the achievement of our young people front and centre of the education system, makes clearer the priorities for education, and helps educators to work together to deliver the best education for all our children and young people.
Secondly, we are reviewing the way the early childhood and schooling systems are funded so that they can be better aligned to the needs of our students. Two weeks ago Secretary of Education Peter Hughes appointed an advisory panel on which some of you now sit to consider a number of proposed directions for change. The Government agrees with the sector that the present funding systems are unduly complex and do not sufficiently direct resources to where they’re needed, particularly for those most at risk of under-achievement. We also share the sector’s concern that the decile system has created false perceptions about the quality of individual schools.
My goal is to have funding systems based on the size of the education challenge rather than the size of the institution and on the learning growth and achievement of all children and young people. More about that shortly.
Thirdly, we have taken steps to strengthen the teaching profession and raise its status. They include establishing the Education Council as a completely independent entity, aligning professional learning and development with key education priorities including maths, science, reading and writing, introducing new teacher education programmes, teacher-led innovation, and the Prime Ministers Education Excellence Awards.
The challenge here to you is to encourage your best and brightest students into the teaching profession!
Fourthly, we have established Communities of Learning to focus on the whole learning pathway of the young person, and to facilitate the sharing of expertise between services, schools and teachers and provide extra professional development opportunities for teachers and principals. Already 117 Communities have been formed comprising more than 1000 schools and more than 320,000 students. As they develop and build systematic relationships with early learning services and tertiary providers they will create seamless learning pathways centred around the needs of our children that stretch all the way from early childhood to tertiary options.
Fifthly, we are investing in data. Ideas are great, but we want to invest in the ideas shown by evidence to work. Hence, we have established National Standards to help primary and intermediate school teachers identify the strengths and challenges of their pupils and teach accordingly. Hence, we are using data in increasingly sophisticated ways, not just in education but across government, to identify young people most at risk of under-achievement and other negative outcomes, and do something about it. Now.
Sixthly, we are providing alternative pathways of academic and applied learning through secondary and into tertiary education, as well as strengthening connections between schools, tertiary institutions and the workplace. Hence, our investments in a range of youth guarantee options including vocational (applied) pathways, fees free places, and trades academies which this year offer more than 6000 students a personalised pathway to gain meaningful qualifications.
Seventh, we are investing in school infrastructure – both physically and digitally - to ensure firstly that our kids have the opportunity to learn in modern, pleasant environments that can be adjusted to suit their learning needs, and secondly that whether they are in the heart of Auckland, downtown Invercargill or Ruatoria’s CBD they are connected to the rest of the world.
I would be happy to go on, but, hopefully, you get the picture. We are refashioning the system into one which puts kids at the very centre of everything we do in education, uses data to inform decision making and report growth in learning, encourages schools and teachers to work together to raise achievement for all kids, lifts the status and capability of the profession, tailors educational pathways to the needs of individual kids, creates a physical environment in which kids are able to learn and connects them to the wider world.
We want to systematically succeed for every Kiwi kid with their personal and particular education choice.
Now to this year’s Budget.
Budget 2016 maintains our focus on raising achievement. It puts extra funding where it will make the greatest difference. It continues the building of a schooling infrastructure that supports a full range of 21st century teaching and learning practices.
All told, this year’s Budget contains extra education investment of more than $1.44 billion. This investment is focused on getting additional resources to our most disadvantaged students, on better meeting the needs of students in special education and on meeting the demands of roll growth. This extra investment increases overall education spending by 2.5 per cent to $11.04 billion in 2016/17.
For the first time we are using a more student-focused approach to direct additional funding to schools with students that we know, from our social investment research, are more likely to need extra help to raise their level of achievement.
To this end, Budget 2016 targets an additional $43.2 million over four years to state and state-integrated schools educating up to 150,000 students from long-term welfare-dependent families.
These students are one of the largest identifiable groups within our education system that is most at risk of educational underachievement.
For example, we know that children whose parents have been benefit dependent for an extended period have a 48 percent chance of achieving NCEA level 2 before the age of 21. By contrast, 73 percent of the general population will have NCEA Level 2 by the same age. This research also shows that students without NCEA Level 2 have more chance of ending up dependent on benefits, and/or in the justice system, than those who have the qualification.
This additional funding will be targeted to schools according to the number of students they have who have spent a significant proportion of their lives in benefit-dependent households. Of course the students will not be identified or stigmatised, nor will schools be told how to use their allocated funding.
It will be allocated regardless of decile.
Allocations for individual schools are still being finalised, but our initial analysis shows that schools with large numbers of pupils from welfare dependent households will receive an increase of between zero and four percent of their current operations grant funding.
The funding rate for the 2017 school year will be determined from a data match in July, and notified to schools in September as per the usual funding rate increases. The funding rate will be determined at that point.
This targeted funding increase signals that we want to focus more discretionary education spending on the children at greatest risk of under-achievement. And it responds to the sectors expressed view that this kind of new spending must be a priority. As a result there will not be a general increase in school operations grants this year, but schools will continue to receive $1.38 billion in operational funding.
The change is designed to complement the Funding Advisory Group’s exploration of new ways of funding ECE and schooling to strengthen our education system and raise the achievement of all students.
Other key spending areas in Budget 2016 include:
- An extra $436 million, to meet the growing demand for ECE. The increase will provide funding for around a further 14,000 children entering ECE.
- An extra $42.1 million over the next four years for students with additional high and special education needs.
- This includes $15.3 million for an extra 1250 students to access in-class support. Together with the increased funding in last year’s Budget, this means the Government is now funding an extra 550,000 hours of classroom support for 2750 students with additional learning needs.
- In addition, a $16.5 million increase in Ongoing Resource Scheme funding means that, from 2016/17, the number of students with high learning needs receiving specialist help, including speech therapy, additional teacher time and teacher aide assistance, will rise from 8,335 to more than 8,600.
- We are also increasing Intensive Wraparound Service funding by $8.9 million over the next four years which will increase the number of students with complex behavioural and learning needs receiving personalised, intensive support by 50 to 335 a year.
- New investment of $882.3 million in school infrastructure – more than double last year’s – to fund
- 480 new classrooms,
- nine new schools,
- two school expansions and
- the relocation and rebuilding of three schools and a kura.
By now, a common theme to Budget 2016 should be emerging.
All of our changes are about raising the achievement of children and young people. They are mutually reinforcing.
Our goal is to continue to build a world-class education system that meets the needs of all our students. I know you share that goal and I look forward to continuing to work with you to make it a reality.
Thank you for what you are doing to provide our kids with a better future.