Re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Nikki Kaye sits down with Metro to dis­cuss some of the is­sues raised by our story.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Schools -

The gov­ern­ment’s crit­ics say the sec­tor has been chron­i­cally un­der­funded for a long time. What do you say?

The rea­son we com­mis­sioned the fund­ing re­view∞ is we saw the need for change. If you look at us com­par­a­tively with other OECD coun­tries, we ac­tu­ally spend quite an amount, de­pend­ing on var­i­ous mea­sures. I don’t want to get into the de­bate of which mea­sures you use. We’re high up there. One of the big is­sues is tied to the sig­nif­i­cant gap in achieve­ment be­tween those who are do­ing well and those who aren’t. We’ve found it chal­leng­ing in the past to push up against dis­ad­van­tage. It’s one of the rea­sons we com­mis­sioned the fund­ing re­view. I can go through a range of ar­eas where we’ve had sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional in­vest­ment and we are see­ing some of the re­sults. So if you take Maori and Pasi­fika achieve­ment, that is ris­ing, and in part that is be­cause we are putting in more re­source. Whether you agreed with Na­tional Stan­dards or greater ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency around achieve­ment and per­for­mance, it has meant that we do know much bet­ter where to tar­get re­source.

So I don’t think it’s just about more fund­ing, it’s about where you put the re­source… The most ad­vanced piece of work, or the one that’s most pub­licly known, is around the decile sys­tem†. The mes­sage I’ve had from the sec­tor is that this is a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion chance to shift things, and we don’t want it to be rushed.

We are re­ly­ing on the stu­dents of for­eign coun­tries to sub­sidise the ed­u­ca­tion of our own chil­dren. How do you feel about that?

We’ve al­ways had a sys­tem in New Zealand where we’ve en­abled schools to get other rev­enue.

Part of the rea­son for the fund­ing re­view is that some schools have a ca­pac­ity by mech­a­nisms like in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, or be­cause of the na­ture of their com­mu­nity, to be able to do a lot more. And I think that’s one of is­sues that we’re tack­ling in this fund­ing re­view, to say what is it that the state pro­vides, and how is it when we have those stu­dents who are more at risk of not achiev­ing that we can tar­get ad­di­tional re­source. I don’t think you’re ever go­ing to want to have a sit­u­a­tion where you don’t en­able schools to fundraise, or to have in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, but this is a bal­ance in terms of en­sur­ing that our sys­tem is sus­tain­able and fairer, and that’s what we’re work­ing through.

Will the fund­ing re­view ac­tu­ally de­liver any more money?

I’ve been in the role five weeks, and I’ve learned if you get ahead of Cab­i­net, that’s usu­ally ca­reer lim­it­ing. But the re­al­ity is ev­ery year since we’ve been in of­fice, we’ve in­creased the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get. So it’s a pretty rea­son­able as­sump­tion to as­sume it’s go­ing to in­crease in the fu­ture. It is in part be­ing able to say, how do we en­sure we have a fairer sys­tem? It’s achiev­ing two things: one is what does fair­ness look like? And what is it we need to en­sure the vi­sion that we want for ev­ery child? To be able to read, to write, do maths, be dig­i­tally flu­ent, well rounded, healthy.

I want to talk about the pub­lic fund­ing of pri­vate schools — $41 mil­lion last year. How is that morally right when our state schools are so ob­vi­ously strug­gling?

Whether it’s state-in­te­grated or in­de­pen­dent schools, there’s been two prin­ci­ples be­hind us hav­ing them here in New Zealand. The first is that they save the tax­payer money. If we were hav­ing to pay the cost of those stu­dents in our state sys­tem, the bill would be larger. So it’s ad­van­ta­geous for us to not to have to pay all of the costs of these kids. The sec­ond prin­ci­ple is choice. We want di­ver­sity of op­tions, we want in­no­va­tion. The over­whelm­ing ad­vice that I’ve had [is] it would cost us a lot more if we didn’t have them. There comes a point at which, ef­fec­tively, there is a sub­sidy pro­vided, whether it’s via state-in­te­grated schools or in­de­pen­dent schools, and if you get that wrong they can be­come un­vi­able, and that’s the del­i­cate bal­ance. I don’t think there’s any po­lit­i­cal party that doesn’t ac­cept there should be some form of sub­sidy.

The Greens’ Cather­ine De­lahunty de­scribes it as cre­at­ing a “per­verse in­cen­tive”, in that pri­vate schools are com­pet­ing with state schools for staff and re­sources, us­ing pub­lic money.

There’s been a de­crease. If you talk to the in­de­pen­dent schools, they say we need to fund them more be­cause they’ve had less stu­dents, and partly be­cause of the global fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion. From my perspective it is a del­i­cate bal­ance, it’s about en­abling choice, ac­cept­ing it would cost us more if we didn’t have these other op­tions be­cause the state sys­tem would have to pay the full cost. We ac­cept that the state sys­tem is over­whelm­ingly im­por­tant and that’s our ma­jor pri­or­ity, and it’s ef­fec­tively a sub­sidy to en­sure that op­tion ex­ists.

The teacher short­age has been de­scribed to me as a cri­sis. Is the gov­ern­ment in denial?

No. But can I again give you a bit of perspective? If you look back, you look at all of the num­bers of a work­force that is po­ten­tially a pool of 120,000 — 68,000 in the sec­ondary sec­tor. For any work­force of that size you would be look­ing at a cou­ple of per­cent­age points in terms of va­can­cies. It’s just not pos­si­ble to have such a large work­force with­out some va­can­cies. Now the first point I’d make is I to­tally un­der­stand any school that has got a short­age of even one teacher; that’s a mas­sive deal, be­cause it means other peo­ple are hav­ing to do ad­di­tional work. So I am very sym­pa­thetic to that, but I guess when you look back — and these are the ques­tions we’re go­ing to ask our­selves in even more depth with this new work­force strat­egy‡ — what’s a rea­son­able amount of va­can­cies, right? And then, how can we be ab­so­lutely much more re­spon­sive to fill them quickly, and have the peo­ple in the right ar­eas so we have less va­can­cies? We’ve got a range of pro­grammes that can be di­alled up po­ten­tially to do more, but the thing that we have to do is have a much longer-term view and not just sit­ting here with these ex­ist­ing pro­grammes and con­stantly de­bat­ing the num­ber. We’ve got to [have] a much clearer idea of what is the sup­ply pipe­line, and en­sur­ing that there is in­no­va­tion in a range of dif­fer­ent providers in spe­cific ar­eas. Like at the mo­ment it’s science and tech­nol­ogy and te reo. We haven’t got that at the mo­ment. I think there’s a lot of work to do but we’re on the way.

Would you con­sider things like writ­ing off stu­dent loans, bond­ing, or other fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives?

At the mo­ment we do have the Auck­land Be­gin­ning Teacher Project, whereby we’re pay­ing schools an ad­di­tional $24,000, which is about sup­port­ing them to help teach­ers with men­tor­ing. So we do have fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives more at the school level. We haven’t looked at any­thing around stu­dent loans be­cause the ques­tion comes up, "What’s your case for teach­ers ver­sus other pro­fes­sions?" The ar­gu­ment hasn’t been won. We have a range of other levers to pull. The Ed­u­ca­tion Coun­cil [came] out with their ini­tial teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­pos­als the other day. They’re say­ing you could have providers in spe­cific sub­jects.

There seems to be some con­fu­sion and cyn­i­cism over the real pur­pose of Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing, on what the endgame is. Can you clar­ify their pur­pose for me?

There’s a cou­ple of pur­poses of them. We haven’t had the shar­ing of best prac­tice that we can. Whether that’s teach­ing prac­tice, or in­quiry, or ped­a­gogy, that’s one big aim of Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing. The sec­ond is also the shar­ing of re­source. It is dif­fi­cult to en­able us to have choices around things like lan­guage be­cause we don’t have 10,000 lan­guage teach­ers. And so the abil­ity to share re­sources to en­able every­body to get ac­cess to a much more di­verse range of sub­jects or in­fra­struc­ture util­i­sa­tion is def­i­nitely a ben­e­fit. The third part is we know at the mo­ment young peo­ple are fall­ing away, or are be­com­ing less en­gaged, and we’re los­ing them at key points of tran­si­tion. So the abil­ity to have a much more seam­less path­way from early child­hood through to sec­ondary is ab­so­lutely a goal. What I can see is some shoots of beau­ti­ful things hap­pen­ing. As min­is­ter I’m in­volved in re­view­ing and en­dors­ing the achieve­ment chal­lenges, and it’s been amaz­ing to see the level of de­tail [at which] these schools are col­lab­o­rat­ing and look­ing at where they need to put re­source. So that’s re­ally pos­i­tive. You’ve got this mix of those schools that are hun­gry and lov­ing it, and are to­tally en­gaged in the Com­mu­nity of Learn­ing, ver­sus those schools that are mov­ing on at a mod­er­ate pace, and those schools that are mod­er­ately scep­ti­cal.

Is that min­is­te­rial eu­phemism, “mod­er­ately scep­ti­cal”?

(Laughs.) Yeah. What we need to do is be able to work on the sys­tems that will sup­port Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing, to power them up to be able to do what they want to do. The way that I look at it is we want schools to lead that process along­side the min­istry. So we’re look­ing at what could be a range of ser­vice of­fer­ings, in terms of maybe bun­dled in­fra­struc­ture ser­vices, or so­cial and health ser­vices, that will en­able them to col­lab­o­rate more. It will also en­able young peo­ple to be able to get ac­cess to things they haven’t had be­fore, and it comes back as well to your pre­vi­ous point, which is some schools have ac­cess to re­sources that other schools don’t. The shar­ing of it can only be a good thing in my view if young peo­ple get much greater eq­uity of what’s de­liv­ered at the school level.

One of the rea­sons that the cyn­i­cism ex­ists is the sec­tor feels rail­roaded, and that the learn­ing achieve­ments are very pre­scribed.

I ac­cept some peo­ple might feel like that. The facts are, it’s up to Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing as to whether they want to form, and we now have half a mil­lion stu­dents and 200-odd Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing. I have a lot of con­fi­dence that schools are do­ing what they think is right for their com­mu­ni­ties. We have to do bet­ter to com­mu­ni­cate with com­mu­ni­ties and boards and our schools about what’s pos­si­ble. With any new model there will be part that’s evolv­ing. We’re not claim­ing it’s per­fect but I have con­fi­dence in all of the schools that have come to­gether to do this. There is over­whelm­ing sup­port for it.

There’s al­ways been ten­sion be­tween the min­istry and the pro­fes­sion, but has it reached it a point of dys­func­tion?

I’ve been an as­so­ciate min­is­ter for four years and I think the re­la­tion­ship has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly. We’ve had two great Sec­re­taries of Ed­u­ca­tion. The ca­pa­bil­ity of the min­istry has lifted sig­nif­i­cantly, and I’ve had some sec­tor lead­ers say that to me. I’d be re­ally keen to un­der­stand who’s say­ing that, be­cause my ab­so­lute read as an as­so­ciate min­is­ter is that things have got bet­ter. We’ll look up that in­for­ma­tion.

Thanks, I’d re­ally like to see it.

Great. Per­fect.

(The in­for­ma­tion never ar­rives.)

What do you per­ceive as the unique is­sues fac­ing Auck­land sec­ondary schools?

The first thing is growth, and how

do we have enough school­ing pro­vi­sion for Auck­land? When I came four years ago into the port­fo­lio, I went to the min­istry and asked, can you tell me what the school prop­erty pro­vi­sion looks like in New Zealand? The big­gest thing for Auck­land is how do you fu­ture­proof a city that hasn’t ac­tu­ally been de­signed that well, whether it’s trans­port or ed­u­ca­tion. The big thing we’re work­ing on at the mo­ment is a 20- to 30-year cap­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture plan. I think there’s been a bit of chat­ter around schools that are at ca­pac­ity. New Zealand’s got quite a gen­er­ous en­ti­tle­ment around prop­erty, so that’s why we have con­fi­dence there are no health and safety is­sues, or we’re not aware of any health and safety is­sues. We don’t be­lieve there is over­crowd­ing.

The sec­ond chal­lenge that Auck­land has: we’ve done re­ally well around up­take of Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing, so you can see that the city is hun­gry for it. I think we need to fo­cus on en­sur­ing there’s the re­sourc­ing for English as a sec­ond lan­guage. I think the third chal­lenge [is] we have a much higher num­ber of Maori and Pasi­fika stu­dents in Auck­land and so if we don’t re­alise this vi­sion of no gap, then the qual­ity of life of all Auck­lan­ders and those young peo­ple is go­ing to be se­verely diminished in the fu­ture. So we have to keep the foot on the ac­cel­er­a­tor around lift­ing Maori and Pasi­fika achieve­ment. The fi­nal thing that I would say just gen­er­ally in terms of Auck­land is we have ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­ni­ties as well, in terms of be­ing more in­ten­si­fied, around ac­cess to other types of learn­ing in­sti­tu­tions and in­no­va­tion. I mean, I an­nounced re­cently metro schoolsΔ, which is just about say­ing we can’t see any neg­a­tive im­pact in other coun­tries from hav­ing more-in­ten­si­fied schools.

For you per­son­ally then, what are you go­ing to achieve in driv­ing the port­fo­lio for­ward?

My pri­or­i­ties? There’s been sig­nif­i­cant sys­tem change. Peo­ple will look back on history and they’ll go be­tween the Com­mu­ni­ties of Learn­ing com­ing in, the Ed­u­ca­tion Amend­ment Bill with co­horts of en­try, Com­mu­ni­ties of On­line Learn­ing, plus all of the work around Na­tional Stan­dards and lift­ing achieve­ment — that’s a lot of change. So the first thing I have to do is bed in that change. The sec­ond thing is I will be fo­cused on dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. I have a fig­ure from the Foun­da­tion for Young Aus­tralians that 60 per cent of the jobs that ex­ist now may not ex­ist in 20 years' time. So it will be a whole fo­cus. We want young peo­ple to be not only dig­i­tal users but creators of the fu­ture, and that is where we’re work­ing on the new cur­ricu­lum in terms of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. We’ll be an­nounc­ing stuff around that in the next few months. The other part is health and well­be­ing gen­er­ally. We an­nounced more men­tal health fund­ing in the Bud­get. What does that look like at a school level? What does a re­ally pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment [look like], what are the best con­di­tions for learn­ing pos­si­ble? And so that’s part of my other fo­cus — while also rais­ing achieve­ment! But they’re con­nected, in my view.

Any­thing you’d like to add?

I think things are go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, but I want teach­ers and prin­ci­pals to hear me say that, be­cause one of the big pieces of feed­back I get is that they see a lot of neg­a­tive stuff, and they want the most hon­est pic­ture pre­sented. Yes, we have our chal­lenges, but ac­tu­ally we do pretty well as a na­tion. And so I think that’s the point that I would make: I have said that I will be re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive, we will be hon­est about where we have to con­tinue to make changes, but while I’m min­is­ter I will con­tinue to be re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive about what’s ac­tu­ally go­ing on and to fix things where they need im­prove­ments.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Sys­tem Re­view cur­rently un­der way and due in 2020.

Eval­u­at­ing how fit for pur­pose the decile sys­tem is for de­liv­er­ing ed­u­ca­tional out­comes is one of the ma­jor work­streams of the fund­ing re­view.

A col­lec­tion of small ini­tia­tives the gov­ern­ment is un­der­tak­ing, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing the teacher train­ing pro­gramme Teach First NZ to al­low for 90 more teach­ers, and fund­ing for men­tor­ing to con­vert 700 pro­vi­sional staff to full-time.

Metro schools are large sec­ondary schools in in­ner cities where land is scarce. They lack things we usu­ally ex­pect of our schools, such as fields and other recre­ational fa­cil­i­ties.

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