Text of opening speech, Sunday, 27 September
Greeting in Te Reo
Our unwavering commitment to do what's best for children / tamariki drives each one of us individually as members and collectively as NZEI Te Riu Roa.
Together we continue the legacy of members just like us - who, over the past 131 years, have stood up and spoken out to shape the outstanding public education system we have today.
Last year our theme was "It's time to Tackle Inequality". Inequality remains rife in our communities with 260,000 children living below the poverty line. We see this inequality all around us. We see how it impacts on children and their lived experiences every single day.
Tackling inequality will remain as a key focus for NZEI members. We know it's the biggest barrier to student success. Around 80% of a child's achievement is dictated by external factors.
Through the theme of this annual conference, "It's got to be about the Child", we hone in and focus more tightly on the child - and what this means for schools, centres and members in a rapidly changing educational environment.
Who better to do this than we, the professionals? We have the knowledge and expertise. We are driven by the moral purpose that brought us into this career in the first place! We go to work every day to make a real difference in the lives of children. That’s because we know our children and their potential. We know their families and our communities. We know them, not as statistics, but as real people. (Story about kids in banners)
The world is changing around us ...
Earthquakes in Christchurch have driven change. These changes are triggers for what's to come for the whole education system.
Migration patterns, population growth and increasing diversity are forcing us to think and respond to children’s learning needs in different ways.
Pressure on the housing market in Auckland and Christchurch means many families (and teachers) are unable to afford homes. That means they’re moving around looking for jobs and somewhere to live.
Lack of opportunities in areas such as northland means significant social issues and high levels of transience.
Rapid change in the digital world means huge opportunities but also massive challenges for jobs of the future.
The contexts for schools and centres around the country are widely varied. The impact on people, especially our children, is very real. We are forced to be reflective and adaptive. We must continually learn from each other and respond to needs - always keeping the best interests of children at heart.
The government is using the reform agenda to lift narrowly defined educational outcomes through a market driven approach. Education is seen as a business. This approach threatens the outstanding public education system we've invested so heavily in - with ideologies so at odds with our collective values.
What we now realise very clearly is that, in today’s political climate – Investing in Educational Success - IS the flagship policy for reform and it’s here to stay.
Make no mistake this is the biggest change to education since the advent of Tomorrow's Schools 26 years ago. It has landed without genuine consultation with the profession and no engagement with the wider community. It’s a move to connect the MOE with the 2500 autonomous schools thereby pulling back from our highly decentralised system.
Coming ready or not, many system levers, big and small, are at play to embed this radical change …
- National standards and Public Achievement Information (PAI) data drive decision making
- Charter Schools consume bucket loads of money and threaten viability of local public schools
- Education Council with its undemocratically elected board is focused on standards, codes of conduct and auditing of appraisals and probably having a role in the delivery of PLD in the future.
- ERO is focused on accountability not only of individual schools and centres but also communities of learning
- Special Education Update is trying to do more with no more
- PLD will be delivered to meet a small number of government priorities. This will be prioritised to communities of learning. CoLs will increasingly be the mechanism for the delivery of PLD.
- A review of school funding is in the planning stages
- And the biggie towards the end of the year, a comprehensive review of the education act to embed the system change agenda further.
You'll remember NZEI's "connect the dots", diagram (prop). The dots are now clearly connected and if we can’t see the that, it’s definitely time to go to SpecSavers. We don't like the picture we see. We see the Global Education Reform Agenda, better known as GERM [slide] as outlined to us at annual meeting in 2012 by Pasi Sahlberg. You’ll remember GERM means standardisation, choice, competition and data based accountability.
The system is changing not just because of external factors and government policy direction. It’s also changing because we’ve said things aren’t working. We’ve said many kids who need special education support aren’t getting it. We’ve said the PLD that’s available to us is often not what we want or need! We’ve said decile doesn’t necessarily reflect community needs accurately, isn’t enough and certainly isn’t a proxy for effective teaching. We’ve said many of us already work together, in spite of the competition created by Tomorrow’s Schools, and we need resourcing to continue.
There’s no road map for what the change will eventually look like.
However, we have a choice. We stand by and let the changes steam roller over us. Or we stand up, speak out and take collective action to change and influence policy in every way we can because we know the system has to do better than this for our kids.
Messages from the International Summit on the Teaching Profession that I attended in Banff earlier this year confirmed that when teachers are engaged in decision making at all levels of the system there are real benefits for students and learning. In fact, one of the presenters from Education International, John Bangs stated “Teachers are worth listening to … and now we have the evidence!”
Very soon you'll see some of the ways we've done this over the past year when we present the annual report video.
And on Tuesday afternoon, Paul Goulter, our national secretary will lead us through a workshop on “Schools to Schooling”. This will get us thinking more about where the system is heading. We need to do this to stay ahead of the play and be in a good place to continue to shape policy as the system moves from the current highly decentralised model to a more connected one.
I'm extremely proud that NZEI has stayed strong and taken a principled, strategic approach based on our values to promote the antidote to GERM. The antidote focuses on personalised learning, equity, collaboration, trust and professionalism (prop).
We've continually challenged the reform agenda using evidence and our combined professional knowledge. National standards are still shonky – neither national, standard nor fair. Charter Schools are seen as dodgy. We’re not buying into PaCT. We’ve put up well supported, credible nominations for the Education Council and lobbied to have the special education update timeframes extended so more parents can have their say. We’re working with other stakeholder groups to influence the funding review and we’re engaging in a number of Ministry consultation processes.
With your backing, we've also looked for opportunities to influence the flawed IES policy. We knew this wouldn’t be easy. The story of the Joint Initiative and subsequent negotiations are examples of this.
We’ve gone in with open hearts and open minds, firmly committed to our mantra “It’s got to be about the child”. We’ve used a highly credible, professional approach to working in partnership with the Ministry of Education to explore examples of collaboration and transition already happening in our schools and centres around Aotearoa. We’ve entered negotiations to develop a model that better reflects what we’ve seen and what we need to achieve for successful communities of learning.
However, these negotiations have been like no other and involved many hours of debate beyond the negotiation table, and at the highest level. Let’s just say that Paul and I are now very familiar with the inside of Hekia’s office!
Tomorrow, we'll be celebrating the professional work undertaken through the Joint Initiative. We’ll be acknowledging the people involved and exploring the key learnings that we must build on.
You all know where we’ve got to with the negotiations. The outcome of the vote has been to accept the offer. 71% of principals and 78% of teachers who voted gave the thumbs up although for many it was done so with caution.
We know there are sticking points around leadership and more time for collaboration. But we have a framework to build on. We also know there is suspicion about what’s really behind the policy direction.
Our aim through the Joint Initiative has always been for Communities of Learning to supersede Communities of Schools. And while we didn't get all we set out to achieve, we have made a significant start!
By continuing "in the tent" we will rally the collective voice of principals and teachers, and with NZEI strength and organisational power, bring further movement essential for success in these areas.
What's important for now is that
- CoLs are self-identifying and voluntary,
- Children and learning pathways are the focus, not structural pipelines
- We have a nod towards recognition of the evidence that distributed leadership works best in educational settings,
- Work will begin on a long-awaited career pathway for teachers
- Flexibility can be applied to teaching roles
- We have Phase 2 which includes and progresses much needed work with ECE, Support Staff, Maori and Pasifika learners, Special Education and PLD
- And we have a structured process for review before the end of 2016 which means we can corral the voices of principals and teachers to influence more change.
All this has been very hard to achieve with a government that's hell bent on marginalising the true collective voice of the profession.
This is not the end of our story, but just the start with many more chapters to come.
So what next? We have a plan!
- Ensure members genuinely engage with Phase 2 so that we have whole of union input into system change.
- Take the learnings from the working party to build a sound implementation process for forming communities.
- Provide support for school leaders and teachers as they go through the really challenging process of defining what their kids need out of a community
- Continue to organise together to keep moving Communities of Learning to be truly responsive to what kids in our communities need.
The times ahead will be challenging. But we know that when we come together focused on what’s really important we will work through these challenges to get the best outcome – “It’s got to be about the child!”
Over next three days, we will celebrate our professional work, celebrate our people, challenge our thinking, grow our understanding and build our collective strength so that we are in good heart to continue the journey.
Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou katoa
Naumai, haere mai, piki mai