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Uniqueness And Innovation

Posted on 12 Aug 2009

Hon Heather Roy speech to Westmount School Auckland Campus; Miller Road, Mangere Bridge, Auckland; Tuesday, August 11 2009.

Ladies and gentlemen, students, teachers, parents, grandparents and trustees.

Good morning. I'm delighted to be here to help you mark another milestone in the development of Westmount School. I am honoured that you have asked me to open your new senior school block.

I'm enjoying visiting independent schools around the country - you all represent choice for students and parents, and are part of a strong and dynamic sector that plays an important role in lifting the overall performance of the education sector as a whole.

As Associate Minister of Education, I am pleased to be involved in strengthening the Government's relationship with independent schools - a relationship that achieves ACT and National's aims of enhancing school choice, and which preserves your school's special character.

I know that there are particular values and aspirations dear to the Brethren community, and that your school was established to provide a quality learning environment that upholds those. Like other schools with special character you are unique, and that uniqueness calls for a flexible approach from the Government.

The shape of the New Zealand Curriculum - the document that you've based your teaching and learning programmes on - allows for this much-needed flexibility. Schools decide for themselves the detail of their vision, values and principles.

One attribute that you have chosen to focus on developing in your students is that of self-directed learning, which leads on to lifelong learning. Westmount School is taking this approach and giving senior students the chance to develop initiative, independence and confidence and often puts teachers in a role more like that of a facilitator.

If we expect adults to be self-managing life-long learners, then self-directed learning at an early age is crucial. Your use of technology is very impressive but, in reality, it is an enabler. It is your choice of - and commitment to - self-directed learning that is responsible for your success. You are leaders in this area, and I congratulate you for that.

I'm impressed at the way in which your school has expanded since opening in 2004 with 450 students to the 1,450 attending 15 campuses around the country today.

Parents in your community want the best for their children and choice is key to achieving this. You provide them with that choice, and it's clear that a growing number of parents in the Brethren community are selecting your school as the education option that best suits their children's needs to provide quality education.

Furthering school choice is a key part of the ACT-National Confidence & Supply Agreement. ACT has always campaigned for school choice, and National has said it will:

"work, over time, to increase the education choices available to parents and pupils so families have more freedom to select schooling options that best meet the individual needs of their children."

National and ACT in Government are well aware that there is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' education model to suit all children, and we are committed to providing parents with more freedom make the decisions around what schooling is best for their children.

The uncertain economic climate has meant that everyone has had to tighten their belt. This brings challenges to all organisations, but it is often in tough times that innovative thinking occurs and this is an area in which independent schools can - and are - taking a lead.

What I have seen here today is a prime example of innovative thinking in action. I am impressed by the way in which you have risen to the challenge of providing your students with a full syllabus across your 15 campuses.

I have no doubt that this was an undertaking that had the potential to adversely stretch your resources, but you've developed innovative solutions to this. I've heard a little about the use of your virtual learning environment using 'Moodle', and I'm looking forward to seeing your video conferencing lessons in action today.

I know that you have a strong business focus and that senior students from Year 12 take part in the Young Enterprise Scheme. Not only are you being innovative with your provision of a quality education, but you are nurturing and encouraging innovation in your students.

In the short time that I have been here today, I have also seen very clearly just how well your curriculum works when put into action. Congratulations on your impressive academic record - your NCEA results at Westmount are well above the national average across all levels. This is a great feat for a school that has only been in existence for five years.

Over the next four years, the Government has committed to spending over $8 million to ensure that NCEA is robust, fair, and builds credibility with employers. It is imperative for parents and students to be able to rely on worthwhile qualifications.

Aligning the NCEA to the revised curriculum is an important part of this work. Our goal is to develop a broad range of pathways so that you can all leave secondary school ready for work, training or further study. That's what our Trades in Schools policy is about, and why we are introducing Trades Academies and investigating school-based apprenticeships.

This Government has moved to make independent schools more affordable for more parents by increasing the funds available to them - something schools like yours have waited some time for.

Budget 2009 included a $10 million per annum boost to Government funding of independent schools - the first increase the Independent School sector has received since 2000. Last week I announced that the additional $10 million per annum would be split two ways - $7.4 million will go directly to schools to increase the current subsidy per student by 21 percent. The other $2.6 million will provide scholarships for students from low-income families - 150 starting next year, with 50 at each of the Year 9, 10, and 11 levels, increasing to 250 in total by 2012.

This is an important step toward honouring ACT and National's pledge to widen the education choices available to students and their parents. The success of these scholarships will be dependent on the support of schools like yours and I would be delighted to see some scholarships at Westmount school.

As well as this boost in funding, the Government is also helping to ease the burden on independent schools by freeing you up from government regulation. Independent schools already enjoy some freedom from this, and I'd like to see that freedom extended. It is important that schools focus on the needs of their students and parents, rather than the demands of central government.

With such high aspirations and a full syllabus for your students, it is vital that this school - and all others like it - are able to focus on the needs of students and parents, rather than on the demands of Government.

I want principals and teachers to lead learning; I want schools to be able to concentrate on teaching and Boards to be able to focus on providing proactive governance. Valuable time and energy should not be wasted on satisfying an over-powering and needless bureaucracy. Our sole aim needs to be that of delivering the best education outcomes for all children and young people to ensure that they have the tools and opportunities with which to reach their full potential.

We need to place high trust in leaders at the front-line, and encourage and promote self-managing schools. This means encouraging and fostering strong educational leadership in every school - be they State schools, integrated, independent, Rudolph Steiner, or Westmount School, whatever the philosophy. This leadership is critical to ensuring the achievement of education goals.

Thank you for inviting me to open your new senior school buildings. I am sure this project that has been a focus for your community for some time will be enjoyed by students and teachers alike. Congratulations again on your impressive teaching programme but more importantly your focus on self-directed learning. I believe this is the future for our country and I look forward to watching your progress in the years to come.


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