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