It’s a privilege to be here on what is the 30th anniversary of this annual conference.

A milestone such as this is both an opportunity to look back and celebrate where we’ve come from, and also to look ahead to where we’re going.

We live in exciting times. The pace of change and the new horizons being opened up to us are unprecedented.

Education is an integral part of this changing world.

The way teachers teach is changing. The way children learn is changing. And the environment in which teaching and learning take place is changing.

I want to talk to you this morning about some key areas of change in the world of education.

In particular, I want to talk about the role that digital technology and school infrastructure are playing in the modernisation of the education system. I also want to talk about the importance of teacher supply, and how greater collaboration through Communities of Learning will help schools navigate a more successful path into the future.

Digital Technologies

Let’s start with digital technologies. We live in a world that’s being transformed by digital technologies.

New technologies and trends are emerging almost daily, and they’re challenging fundamental assumptions about our education system, our workforce, and the competencies and capabilities needed to be a successful citizen in the 21st century.

Digital technologies are also revolutionising the way students can interact and learn, and our education system must be able to keep up with this revolution.

For young people growing up today, the virtual world is as real as the physical world. Using devices to interact and learn is a natural state of being for them.

Our challenge is to harness the range of technologies now available to us, and use this to enhance the learning experience in our schools.

We can’t afford to get left behind. Young people are already learning online in their own way, in their own time. We have to assure parents and families that schools can add value to the online learning experience, through the experience and expertise that teachers can bring to it.

The Government is investing heavily so that the right platform is in place to support digital learning in our schools.

We’ve invested more than $700 million towards digital infrastructure such as cabling and wireless technology in schools. Through the N4L Managed Network, we’re also providing schools with uncapped, high-speed broadband, funded by the Crown.

This means our schools are now well set up to access the digital world. But access is only one part of the equation.

Just as critical is how digital technologies are used in schools to enhance the learning experience.

This is so important that we’ve made digital fluency one of the five priority areas in teachers’ professional learning and development.

We’ve invested over $60 million to enhance professional learning and development.

We’ve also set up a $1 million contestable fund, to support innovative learning projects that capture students’ imagination, and help them become skilled in using and developing digital technologies.

One of the greatest impacts of digital technologies is how they have merged traditional institutional and learning boundaries.

It’s now possible for groups of students to have discussions with each other or collaborate on projects in real time, despite being in different locations. This opens up an entirely new world of teaching and learning opportunities.

Schools have already begun seizing these opportunities. The Virtual Learning Network is seeing schools across New Zealand come together as one online community, or a ‘classroom without walls’.

The concept of Communities of Online Learning is about recognising and further supporting this capacity for students to learn anywhere, at any time and in any place.

I know some of you may be cautious about this new initiative, so it’s important to stress that Communities of Online Learning are about supplementing and complementing learning in the classroom, not replacing it.

As I’ve already alluded, teachers can add huge value through the experience and expertise they can bring to bear, to enhance learning with digital technologies. I don’t see teachers becoming less important in a digital world, in fact, I think the reverse is true.

A potential major benefit of Communities of Online Learning is that they will give students access to a wider range of subjects and teaching expertise.

As you know better than anyone, it’s simply not realistic to have teachers on the ground teaching every specialist subject, in every single school. Communities of Online Learning will enable students to attend a local school, but include subjects in their studies that might not otherwise have been available to them. This is important in a country like ours, which comprises many small and remote communities.

I believe strongly that it’s important to balance online and other types of learning. Shortly, I want to summarise the investment this Government has made in school property since 2008.

The scale of the investment we’re making to upgrade and grow our schools should help dispel any perceptions that Communities of Online Learning signal the end of traditional schools.

But before I talk about this, I want to briefly mention another critical component we’re working on to enable schools and students to derive maximum benefit from the digital world. This is the content of the curriculum itself.

We must ensure we’re equipping students with the right skills to participate in a 21st Century economy.

That means equipping them to be creators, and not just users, of digital technology.

That’s why last year, the Government tasked the Ministry of Education to strengthen digital technologies within the curriculum.

We now know more about what it takes to design curriculum, starting with the knowledge and skills learners need to help them understand and participate in the world - rather than starting with subjects, and the constructs of year level and curriculum level.

To support the new curriculum content we’re developing learning progressions for the design of digital technologies. This will help teachers deliver the rich, meaningful learning opportunities that will make a difference for all learners.

The new curriculum content and the progressions will underpin the development of the NCEA Achievement Standards, meaning clearer learning pathways for digital technologies across the whole of the students’ schooling.

The Ministry has been working with many of you here today, and your communities and industry partners, to ensure the changes we make to the national curriculum will position digital technologies explicitly and coherently, and that within Te Marautanga o Aotearoa they are placed firmly within a Māori worldview. This collaboration is set to increase every year as we begin the important work of reviewing the Standards for NCEA.

If we’re successful, we will help close the skills gap for technology firms, precision manufacturers and modern agricultural enterprises, who are all currently reporting long-term vacancies that are hard to fill, because of a lack of suitably skilled candidates.

Property and infrastructure

So now I’ll talk a little bit about our investment in school property, because without property, there are no schools.

To deliver a 21st Century education, we need schools to offer a 21st Century learning environment.

When we came into Government, we inherited a school property portfolio with an average age of around 40 years.

Many of the buildings were affected by an era of leaky buildings, by poor design, by poor maintenance or a combination of all of these.

A lot of what we’ve been doing is playing catch-up as we systematically address these issues.

Alongside the five yearly funding that all schools receive to maintain their property, we’ve set up extra pots of money for major redevelopments, weathertightening and earthquake strengthening.

As part of this work, we’ve made sure we’ve obtained a thorough picture of the condition of all school property. This has enabled us to prioritise the investments we need to make, as well as when, where and how much.

A specialised property team was also set up in the Ministry of Education to help carry out the work that’s been needed.

To give you a window on the scale of the work we’re doing, by mid-2017, we will have invested more than $5 billion in school property since we came into Government. This includes around $850 million invested in around 50 new schools or school expansions. It also includes around $577 million for over 30 major redevelopments.

In last year’s Budget alone, we announced over $880 million of investment in school infrastructure, more than double the school infrastructure spend of the previous year’s Budget.

The other big driver of school property investment is population growth.

Many parts of New Zealand are experiencing sustained population growth, particularly Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Queenstown.

So we’re acting now to get ahead of the growth curve, by expanding the capacity of our school network, wherever the forecasts show the likelihood of significant and sustained roll growth.

To give a picture of the work underway, since 2014, nearly $300 million has been approved to add over 450 classrooms across New Zealand.

Any project to build new classrooms or upgrade existing ones is an opportunity to create innovative learning environments in our schools.

The traditional cellular classroom with internal load bearing walls tends to create a barrier to changing teaching processes.

Innovative learning environments therefore feature flexible teaching spaces, to support a range of teaching and learning styles.

We have to prepare students for the modern and ever-changing world they will face when they leave school. Today, students learn not so much from text books or what a teacher tells them, but rather by doing, talking and researching – and most of all, by thinking deeply about how to solve a problem, or create, design or develop something.

Flexible learning spaces make it easier for teachers and support staff to deliver collaborative and group learning, alongside individual and one-on-one learning. Students get to observe teachers’ practice, and observe how they learn from other teachers.

I know some schools and teachers have found that it can take time to get this new approach to teaching and learning right. But they also acknowledge that the rewards are there, with students learning at their own pace and in their own style, with greater focus.

Flexible learning spaces also allow room for teaching and learning practices to evolve and change, so this is about future-proofing our considerable investment in education infrastructure.

Teacher supply

Of course, a modern curriculum and modern classrooms count for nothing without skilled teachers to teach our children.

The Government is committed to a long-term programme of work that will build a quality teacher workforce, which meets the needs of students, schools and communities.

We want to work with the sector and seek your input into the solutions that will achieve this. The questions we are currently discussing with you include:

Are we on the right track with our approach to addressing the availability of quality teachers? What would give principals more confidence about permanently employing beginning teachers? How do we ensure effective mentoring for inexperienced teachers? What steps can we take to help retain our middle managers and experienced classroom teachers?

In the meantime, while we carry out this longer term work, we know we have an immediate need to improve teacher supply in some geographical areas, in Te Reo and Maori medium environments, and in some subjects.

Can I just say we’re not facing the situation we faced back in 2008/09, but for some schools there are challenges. That’s why the Government recently introduced a $9 million package of initiatives to address immediate concerns.

Many of your proposed solutions have been included in this package, which was announced in August last year. So far:

A UK recruitment campaign has identified 300- 400 UK teachers interested in moving to New Zealand in the next 12-18 months. 100 extra TeachNZ scholarships for STM graduates to train as teachers were offered this year. Applications closed on 7 February and almost 200 were received. 30 Teach First NZ teachers started in Auckland secondary schools at the start of this school year, and 18 of these are STM teachers.  This programme puts some of our brightest and best graduates into classrooms in lower decile communities. A social media campaign promoting teaching to STM graduates was launched in September 2016, and has had around 176,000 website visits. The ‘Bring a Kiwi Home’ campaign, aimed at encouraging New Zealand teachers working overseas to return home to teach, was launched in mid-December. While it is too early to measure its success, the videos associated with the campaign have had 88,920 views to date.

We know it’s not just teacher numbers that we need to look at. Ensuring teacher quality is also a key focus. Principals consistently tell us that we can’t consider supply in isolation from teacher quality.

In Auckland, the Beginning Teacher Project is up and running. This is a joint project with the Auckland Primary Principals’ Association to support the employment and induction of 38 beginning teachers in Auckland through to full certification.  An evaluation which runs alongside this initiative will explore the factors that reduce the high rates of attrition of among beginning teachers.

While this is a primary initiative, it shows there’s a willingness by the Ministry to support both innovative ideas to help grow our pool of specialised teachers, as well as schools that are supporting beginning teachers. I’m concerned, as many of you will be, that so few of our beginning teachers are being employed in permanent positions.

We are also working with the Tertiary Education Commission to influence the intake of students enrolling in initial teacher education, so they are a better match to school needs, and we’re working with the Education Council, NZQA and Immigration NZ to smooth the path for overseas teachers coming to work in New Zealand.  

While the Government can do some things, making the decision to permanently employ beginning teachers, or giving clear and consistent feedback when an experienced teacher is not performing well, are matters for groups of principals to discuss and address. I look forward to a discussion with you about the challenges you experience in these areas. The Government will continue to work alongside you on this issue.

Communities of Learning/Kahui Ako

Finally, I want to talk briefly about Communities of Learning/Kahui Ako.

Communities of Learning are a key part of the Government’s Investing in Educational Success initiative. Their aim is to better enable educators to collaborate to improve student progress, achievement and well-being right across the learner pathway.

There are now 180 Kahui Ako throughout New Zealand, comprising 1503 schools, 95 early learning services, three tertiary providers, and over 495,000 students.

This represents great progress, and the numbers are growing all the time.

For me, the focus on collaboration that’s at the heart of Communities of Learning is the key to the power they hold to be a transformative force in our system.

There are great things happening in so many areas, in so many of our schools. Communities of Learning are about being open to learning from each other, and putting these learnings to use in the best interests of our children.

The opportunities for Kahui Ako to help support beginning teachers is one of the more exciting untapped areas of potential.

Concluding comments

It’s been a privilege to attend this conference and speak to you this morning.

As school principals, you occupy pivotal roles in our education system and in ensuring student success.

Really successful schools have really strong leaders. A core element of strong school leadership is promoting high-quality teaching and learning, which has the most powerful in-school influence on student learning.

The more you are able to focus your relationships, your work and your leading on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater your influence on student outcomes.

Of course, as well as being a rewarding role, being a school leader is also challenging. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted. But I’d like to assure you that as a Government, we are as committed and passionate as you are at making a difference, and ensuring our education system is the best it can be to give every child the opportunity to achieve to their potential.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you all today, and safe travels back home.

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