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Making A Real Difference

Posted on 27 Jul 2009

Hon Heather Roy speech to the Southland Region Board of Trustees Annual General Meeting; Kelvin Hotel, Kelvin Street, Invercargill; Tuesday, July 21 2009.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening, and thank you for the invitation to speak at your AGM.

Unlike many Wellingtonians, I'm not afraid to visit Invercargill in the winter. I spent a year at Kew Hospital as a third-year physiotherapy student, met my husband here and have family living locally.

These things may mean that my Southland credentials aren't perfect, but I do have a little history with the region!

I'd like to begin by thanking you for the contribution you make. We - the Government and parents - expect a lot from you and, when I consider how it is those of you who are Board Trustees got to be where you are, I have a great deal of admiration for your efforts and achievements.

Like me - and all politicians - you are elected to your positions by your peers. Your job is to govern, not to get involved in management - no matter how tempting that may be at times - to be accountable for the decisions you make and to take criticism from all directions. There is no long-term job security and in your case the pay is - to put it politely - not that flash.

Your often thankless position carries with it expectations. Boards have a very important role in making a difference for children and young people. You are entrusted with effective governance and expected to be scrupulously honest, to speak for your school community and to competently drive through the changes schools need and parents mandated at the last election.

As Boardmembers you are ultimately responsible for the performance of your school. You are expected to be confident that you are serving the best interests of student learning and achievement. You are expected to be accountable - to show your community what you are doing, and why.

And while you turn your minds and actions to these tasks in what is essentially a voluntary capacity I suspect you frequently find that everyone is an expert - yet few put up their hands to be counted as you do.

One could ask why it is you bother. Yet I rarely talk to a trustee who doesn't report that the experience is extraordinarily challenging but rewarding and valuable. That speaks volumes for your commitment to your children, and my children and all other Kiwi kids. For fighting the good fight I congratulate you.

After last year's election I became the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Associate Minister of Education and Associate Minister of Defence. There may not be too much obviously in common with Defence and the job you do as trustees of our children's school's, but my other responsibilities are directly related. As Minister of Consumer Affairs I expect quality and choice in the education sector. Parents and students are, after all, consumers of education services.

Associate Ministers are responsible for specific areas of portfolios. After the positions are allocated, primary portfolio Ministers and Associates negotiate over the areas of delegated authority - at least this is my recent experience of how such things go!

After some to-ing and fro-ing I was given responsibility for Special Education, Gifted and Talented Students and Independent Schools. Although at face value these seem like diverse area there is a common thread - to get quality educational outcomes for students, and that choice is the key to achieving success.

Tonight I'd like to focus on the areas of Special Education and Gifted and Talented Students. We tend to think of the children and young people that broadly fit in to these two groups as being at opposite ends of a spectrum - but in many respects this is the wrong way of considering what their needs are and how they can be met.

In reality, those who we consider to be 'normal learners' do relatively well in our school system. That's not to say they couldn't perhaps do better but they don't cause too much grief in the classroom, don't require extra resources and will - by and large - become responsible citizens who will contribute well to society.

Those with learning challenges outside the 'normal' range, however, struggle and require extra assistance.

If I had to sum up the thing I think is most vital to success in our education, it is choice. When it comes to the education of their children, parents - often with advice - are best placed to determine what the right school is. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another. The idea that there is a 'one size fits all' education model to suit all children is a myth.

In Invercargill today I've seen plenty of that and had several excellent visits to a variety of schools and programmes:

* James Hargest High School, Student Support Centre
* Waihopi Primary School, Park Syndicate
* Ruru Special School
* Enrich@ilt, which is part of the Gifted Kids Programme network - a One Day School which was launched during the recent Gifted Awareness Week and
* No. 10 - Invercargill Secondary Schools Network

Special Needs
There was much flurry around an IHC report released recently that purported that mainstreaming was the only style of schooling suitable for children with special needs.

The mainstreaming philosophy is favoured by many parents. In fact, most children with special needs receive their education at their local school. All children have the legal right to attend the school closest to where they live. But this is just one option that should exist when it comes to the delivery of Special Education.

Parents - of all children - deserve to have the freedom to decide the kind of schooling that best suits their children's needs. Inclusive schools favoured at the expense of other options for special needs students - special schools and satellite units - takes away that freedom and locks special needs students into the very 'one size fits all' education model that denies parents viable options for their children.

I absolutely support the right of parents of children with special needs to choose and send their children to an inclusive or mainstream school. However, they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on the parents of other special needs students in a way that would limit their choices and options - as is implied in the report.

Many parents, after seeking advice and investigating all possibilities, choose special schools or satellite units where they are available as the schooling option that is best for their child.

Both ACT and National campaigned for greater choice in education during the 2008 election and have pledged to continue this work in Government. As part of this, the National-ACT Confidence & Supply Agreement states that both Parties will work together 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."

As Associate Minister of Education I am responsible for conducting a review of Special Education that will identify current difficulties and possible solutions, and I welcome comments from everyone who has a vested interest in this very important area.

The review will also consider funding issues and ways of allocating the extra resources promised before the election. Despite having had to make some difficult decisions in Budget 2009, an additional $51 million over four years has been allocated to enable more children with high needs to receive support through Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Schemes (ORRS).

Further, a flow-on effect should see children with moderate special education needs also receive more support.

Gifted and Talented
Although we parents all consider our children to be talented, one of the biggest obstacles that a gifted child faces is simply being recognised as such. This is partly due to the stereotypical image of a gifted child being one that is far in advance of their years and, for example, having the ability to undertake university level studies while still attending school.

Many parents worry that their gifted child can become isolated from others, while other gifted children are over-looked at school because they may have learning problems - such as dyslexia - or problems with co-ordination.

These children often become confused, lonely and frustrated. They can become bored at school and feel they don't belong - which can lead to low self-esteem, or behavioural problems and under-achievement. Some are teased and bullied at school, and others will purposely under-achieve to fit in with their peers.

Gifted children often feel isolated or strange because they don't fit in. Frequently they haven't met other gifted children and are reassured when they do find others with similar life and learning experiences. Because they can find it difficult to connect with their peers, they can miss out on the socialising experiences that other children have.

I firmly believe we must celebrate success in whatever form it may take. As a country, it is vital that we recognise achievement and provide positive encouragement to our gifted and talented children and young people - whether that be in academic, artistic, or sporting fields.

It is, therefore, encouraging to see the work of the many organisations that focus on gifted children and the schools that provide programmes for these students. Gifted Awareness Week and One Day Schools are just two initiatives that encourage young people to develop their special talents and enable them to grow and gain confidence - not just in that particular area, but in other learning areas.

There is, and always has been under successive Governments, little public funding of Gifted and Talented children. The Ministry of Education has had an advisory group in place for several years. This group is due to be re-organised, and I am working with the Ministry on a number of options to improve the way in which expertise and assistance is provided to schools in this area.

Joint ventures between schools and a number of organisations that provide quality programmes for students now is one way of maximising the passion and skill of those working in the area.

A rising tide really does raise all ships, and the downstream effects of developing and strengthening gifts and talents is beneficial to the educational outcomes of all students.

One area where there are significant gaps for teachers - both in Special Education and Gifted and Talented - is in undergraduate training and professional development. Until our teachers are equipped to provide quality teaching, we cannot expect the best to be provided to students. There is work to be done in this area.

Conclusion
Under the Education ACT of 1877 education was to be free, secular and compulsory for children aged seven-13. Today the Government funds education for students aged five-19. But nowhere is it written that the Government must provide the education outcomes, own education property or even employ the teachers and staff.

Take roading, for example. While Governments are committed to building roads that are free to drive on, they often contract private companies to plan, build and maintain them. So why not in education?

I see no impediment to the Government contracting private organisations to provide education - so long as that provision is cost-effective, performs well and is of a high quality. Providing choice means providing options for parents and students - a 'one size fits all' State-run model provides only one option which, by its very nature, offers no choice at all.

It is very important that all schools are able to focus on the needs of students and parents, rather than on the demands of central agencies.

I want principals and teachers to lead learning; I want schools to get on with teaching and boards to provide proactive governance. Valuable time and energy shouldn't be wasted on satisfying an over-powering and needless bureaucracy. Our sole aim needs to be delivering the best education outcomes for all children and young people so they have all 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 strong educational leadership in every school is critical to achieving education goals be that State, integrated, independent, Rudolph Steiner - whatever the philosophy.

Thank you again for the work that you do. It is valuable and valued.

ENDS

Heather Roy's Diary

Posted on 24 Jul 2009

Media Storm In A Credit Teacup
A simple product launch this week quickly turned into something of a media storm as news agencies reported a 'revolutionary new' credit rating system. In reality the product is a numerical scoring of the company's credit data, which can be purchased to assist with risk assessment - and assessment is already standard practice of lending institutions like banks.

Any measure that provides accurate, timely and useful information to the financial market is to be welcomed. This product has emerged from a debate around the pros and cons of negative credit reporting versus positive credit reporting.

The country's largest credit reporting company Veda Advantage - formerly BayCorp - announcement that, as of early August, it will begin offering for sale credit rating data that scores people by rating them between -330 and +1,000 to determine their creditworthiness when they apply for finance.

The rating will be based on information that Veda already holds on the applicant - individuals with scores of 100 or less will find it difficult to obtain credit, 500-600 is the average, and those with 700 or higher would be viewed as low-risk.

While this is a new product for Veda, credit reporting is not actually new. With negative reporting - which we have now - an agency will assess a lenders risk based on past loan defaults or bankruptcies. Under positive reporting someone on a low income - who, on the surface, might appear a credit risk - can build up a positive record should they have a history of paying their bills promptly.

Lenders have long used credit reporting systems. One form of positive credit rating is pre-approved credit limits - have you ever wondered why your credit card limit keeps going up, or why a banker might approve your personal loan on the spot?

Companies like Veda represent only a small part of the total financial market - debt collection and the supply of historical information about past financial transactions for which it has visibility. Many people assume these companies are lenders but they are not, they offer databases for sale as part of their business.

Historical information is just one relevant factor and isn't necessarily considered by lenders to be the top predictor of reliable repayment. It should be noted that there are many examples of security breaches committed by individuals with previously unblemished security records.

To be relied upon by lenders and borrowers, any system must have general acceptance from all major elements of the market. To this end, major trading banks and financial lending institutions have spent many years working to develop credit rating systems that strike an effective balance between these challenging points on the financial market continuum.

The rating systems used by the major lenders are derived from substantial analysis of their own lending data. In particular, they assess lenders by: age, income, profession and debt delinquency in that priority order.

Using this criteria, a low-income pensioner for example - who, stereotypically might appear a bad credit risk - might be viewed as a good credit risk under a behaviour model because they have a calmer, more predictable lifestyle and are often debt-free with assets such as a freehold house.

Under most bank scoring models the weighting carried by age, income and profession scores trumps debt delinquency. Unfortunately, debt collection and credit reporting companies like Veda do not often have all the information necessary to build up this kind of 'total risk picture'.

A very important concern surrounding this issue is privacy. Credit reporting firms currently want privacy law to be changed so they can collect more information on New Zealanders. While the Privacy Commissioner's office is considering the proposal as part of a review of credit reporting in New Zealand, opponents claim the move could make it impossible for some people to obtain credit from reputable lenders - forcing them to turn to fringe lenders.

Advocates, however, believe that supplying more information would provide lenders with a more accurate view - allowing them to calculate risk, adjust interest rates, and offer applicants more reasonable and appropriate credit.

Whatever the outcome, this is a timely reminder for consumers to check their credit history and become familiar with the information that credit reporting agencies hold about them.

Consumers should be aware of their creditworthiness and can obtain a free annual credit report with which to do so. Should the report be incorrect, they can ask that details be corrected - if this is denied, they must be told the reason and can ask that a 'statement of the correction sought but not made' be attached to their record and be included in future reports.

While the security of debt is an important issue to consider, this is also a good time - given the current financial climate - for people to concentrate on savings as well.

Lest We Forget - Nixon Ordered To Hand Over Watergate Tapes (July 24 1974)
Thirty-five years ago the US Supreme Court ordered President Richard Nixon to surrender recordings of White House conversations about the Watergate affair - in which burglars were caught rifling through confidential papers and bugging the office of Nixon's political opponents at the Watergate Hotel headquarters of the Democratic National Committee during the 1972 election campaign.

While the White House had already released edited transcripts, Nixon had refused to comply with a court order requiring him to produce the tapes - which, according to prosecutor Leon Jaworski, implicated the President in a cover-up of the break-in.

On July 24 1974, however, Chief Justice Warren E Burger rejected Nixon's claims of executive privilege and ordered him to "yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial."

Although expressing disappointment with the ruling, Nixon said he would comply with the ruling and went on to become the first US president in history to resign from office in August 1974.

ENDS

Seeking The Best For Our Children

Posted on 19 Jul 2009

Hon Heather Roy speech to ACT Regional Conference; Bunnythorpe Methodist Church Hall, Bunnythorpe; Saturday, July 18 2009

The current economic climate has had a significant effect on our decision-making. Things that we, as a country and as individuals, had previously been able to afford are now thought about much more carefully before the cheque is written.

A recent article in the UK's 'Telegraph' newspaper told a story that we in New Zealand are already well familiar with. It's essentially about parents, unable to afford a private school education and wanting to send their children to particular State-run schools because they like the style of education offered, but then being unable to do so for a variety of reasons - most often because they live outside the enrolment zone. The article concluded that:

"To win an elusive place in the school of their choice, parents are using tactics that make Machiavelli look like Snow White."

It is always difficult to completely overlook one's own experiences as a parent when considering education. I have five children and we have had experience of just about every schooling option, including at two independent schools.

We had an interesting discussion around my family's dinner table recently: my 13-year-old, who started this year at a popular State secondary school, told us unprompted of all the tricks engaged in by 'out of zone families' in his class to get their children in to this particular school.

He told us of the different experiences of three of the students in his class of 32. One is living with grandparents during the week, so as to have an 'in zone' address; another's family has moved in to an 'in zone' apartment for a year.

This is nothing new - but the fact that the kids themselves obviously compare stories tells a story of its own. I know of some Boards of Trustees who dedicate a Boardmember to the role of private investigator - their job is solely to make sure students really do live where they purport to.

Why am I telling you about these difficulties with state school enrolments? Because at the core of the issue is choice. Who can blame parents for doing everything in their power to gain the best for their children? Why do we tolerate an education system that allows for this?

Many would love to send their children to an independent or integrated school, but just can't afford to. Parents will move house; hire a flat for a year; send children to live with family members who are 'in zone'. Parents want the best education for their children and will often go to extraordinary lengths to get it.

Choice is important to parents, to children, to society on just about every front - yet we limit the choices parents have when it comes to sending their children to the best school for them. There is something wrong with this picture - it's the way we think about access to education, availability of educational options and affordability of those options.

The annual per capita rates for independent schools have not changed since 2000 when the subsidy rate was capped. As a consequence, most private schools have had to increase tuition fees - which, in turn, means parents look more carefully at their budgets before choosing one.

This year's Budget announcement will help independent schools in a small way. Private schools currently receive $35.4 million annually in funding. Starting next year, an additional $10 million per annum will increase the overall funding to $45.2 million per annum. If calculated per head on enrolled student, this equates to a 28 percent increase per student.

This additional funding honours the National-ACT Government's commitment to increase families' education choices so they have more freedom to select schooling options that best meet their children's needs. A small start, but a good one.

There has been some comment in recent months regarding additional funding to private schools, with some commentary going so far as to label this as 'stealing' from State schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Parents who send their children to an independent school actually help to alleviate the burden on the State education system. These parents are actually paying for their children's education twice: once through their taxes, and again when they cover the cost of choosing a private school for their child.

Tough times call for innovative thinking - this applies to schools, business, and to the Government itself. While no one wants to see business closures in the short-to-medium-term, where firms would have survived had it not been for the credit-crunch, it is not the role of Government to intervene and keep businesses afloat when they are no longer viable.

Businesses are being encouraged to look at innovative ideas and solutions in order to get through these uncertain economic times.

National and ACT in Government want to provide parents with greater freedom to send their children to the school of their choice based on educational quality, school ethos, and the needs of their children - not based on central planning or a particular ideology. Education should be a network of provision that strives for excellence in all sectors - whether that is state-run or independent.

Under the Education ACT of 1877 education was to be free, secular and compulsory for children aged seven-13. Today the Government funds education for students aged five-19. But nowhere is it written that the Government must provide the education outcomes, own education property or even employ the teachers and staff.

Take roading, for example. While Governments are committed to building roads that are free to drive on, they often contract private companies to plan, build and maintain them. So why not in education?

I see no impediment to the Government contracting private organisations to provide education - so long as that provision is cost-effective, performs well and is of a high quality. Providing choice means providing options for parents and students - a 'one size fits all' State-run model provides only one option which, by its very nature, offers no choice at all.

As part of the National-ACT Confidence & Supply Agreement, it was agreed that an Inter-Party working group would be established to consider options for increasing parental and student choice in education. I am pleased to announce that this group has been formed and a robust work programme established. I am chairing this project along with members from the ACT, National and Maori Parties.

The group has begun work on this very complex area and plans to report back to the Minister of Education by the end of the year. Despite ACT being a small Party in Government, we have been able to deliver on one of the key initiatives from the Confidence & Supply Agreement with National.

This means we can finally enter into a proper discussion about education - an open and frank dialogue that focuses on the needs and aspirations of all, without the shackles of dogma and ideology. The ultimate outcome of this will be that parents and students have greater freedom when choosing an education path without interference from central Government.

Greater freedom from central Government is something that ACT campaigned on in 2008 - promising to reduce red tape and cut bureaucracy in order to free up business and grow the economy.

Independent schools already enjoy some freedom from Government regulation, and I'd like to see this extended. But businesses - and I place private schools in this category because, to survive, they have to provide a quality service people want to buy - risk become hamstrung by excessive regulation and compliance requirements.

This is why ACT drafted the Regulatory Responsibility Bill and commitment for ongoing work - so that businesses could operate more effectively without the yoke of needless compliance and red tape.

But accepting Government funding also means accepting that Government will want a say in how that money is utilised. In my experience, Government assistance nearly always comes with a catch - Government interference in daily operations.

It is very important that all schools 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 get on with teaching and boards to provide proactive governance. Valuable time and energy shouldn't be wasted on satisfying an over-powering and needless bureaucracy. Our sole aim needs to be delivering the best education outcomes for all children and young people so they have all 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 strong educational leadership in every school is critical to achieving education goals be that state, integrated, independent, Rudolph Steiner - whatever the philosophy.

I recently received a letter with this paragraph included in it. I couldn't have said it better myself:

"Blind ideologies and politically driven philosophies should not stand in the way of supporting an independent education sector that has a proven track record, that promotes choice, diversity and innovation, that gives parents the basic right to choose the education that best suits the needs of their children, that provides a net fiscal benefit to the State, that frees up valuable resources for the State school sector and that prevents New Zealand from taking a backward step towards a State-controlled monopoly education system, one that would serve only to produce mediocrity and strip this nation of its ability to education and produce exceptional young New Zealanders who will rightfully take their place on the world stage as outstanding leaders."

I wish to end by emphasising my belief that a strong and dynamic independent sector can improve the overall performance of the education sector as a whole.

I believe that parents have the right to choose what is best for their children's education and that - far from creating barriers - the role of Government should be to encourage choice, and nurture an environment where the best outcomes for students are paramount. An environment with a level playing field that encourages every student to reach their potential. A strong, vibrant and healthy school sector is critical to the success of this goal.

ENDS

So Others Might Live In Safety

Posted on 18 Jul 2009

Hon Heather Roy speech to Operation RATA II Departure; Ohakea Airmovements Terminal, Ohakea; Saturday, July 18 2009.

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Air Vice Marshall Peter Stockwell: it's a pleasure to be here this morning to farewell our soldiers and sailors, and to meet with the families and friends of those deploying today.

I can see and feel that you are all 'in the zone' - you have been well trained and prepared for your task and I have every confidence that you are ready, willing and able to do the job your country has asked of you.

My words this morning are, therefore, short and simple. It could be called a "soldier's five", but could equally be described as a "mother's five". You servicemen and women who are about to board an aircraft to the Solomons don't need me to tell you what to do.

Many of you already have operational service; for others, this is your first tour of duty. Either way, you are all part of a proud New Zealand history of doing our bit, sticking up for what we know is right and helping others to live in peace and safety.

Each and every one of you will be representatives of our country and her reputation. I know you will hold the flame of freedom high.

You are an impressive mix of regulars and reservists showing the strength of our Defence Force by working as one.
I enjoyed meeting with many of you at Linton during your pre-deployment training. I know that you are well prepared for the tasks that will be expected of you - from ROVE Prison external security and being part of the Quick Response Force, to patrolling in a number and variety of settings and deploying to outposts and providing protection and support to the Participating Police Force operations.

I'm looking forward to joining you for a few days in early September, by which time you will be well settled into your routines and able to expertly direct this 'rookie sapper' in your tasks.

To the partners, children, parents and whanau here - and the many who couldn't attend to farewell this contingent - I offer the heartfelt thanks of all New Zealanders for your contribution.

I know the separation of deployments is very demanding on you too, and understand the gap that waving goodbye to your loved ones today leaves in your lives. You too are serving your country with your sacrifice so that the mothers, children and extended families of the Solomon Islands - people that you will probably never meet - can live in safety.

The New Zealand Defence Force has a robust welfare system for families of deployed troops. Please use it. No system is perfect, but it gets better every day. I am committed to helping the NZDF make improvements so that your tour of duty on the home front runs as smoothly as it possibly can.

To those who are departing, and to those who are staying behind, our country thanks you. Be bold and decisive in all your roles and be there for each other.

I look forward, not only to visiting you in theatre but, to welcoming you all back here before long.
ONWARD!

ENDS

Minister Farewells Troops To Solomon Islands

Posted on 18 Jul 2009

Associate Minister of Defence Hon Heather Roy today bid farewell to the personnel of the New Zealand Defence Force’s Operation Rata II, deploying from Ohakea Air Force Base to the Solomon Islands.

"I have every confidence that these servicemen and women are ready, willing and able to do the job that this country has asked of them," Mrs Roy said.

"While many of these personnel have already participated in operational service, for others this will be their first tour of duty.

"Together, they form an impressive combination of regulars and reservists showing the strength of our Defence Force by working as one - undertaking such duties as ROVE Prison external security, participating in the Quick Response Force, patrolling in a number and variety of settings, deploying to outposts, and providing protection and support to the Participating Police Force operations.

"Heartfelt thanks must also be given to the families and whanau who, with this deployment, are left with a gap in their lives. Without the contributions of those who serve at home, many in the Solomons would not be able to live in safety.

"Each one of these servicemen and women is a representative of our country and reputation. I know they will hold the flame of freedom high, and look forward to visiting them in theatre at the beginning of September," Mrs Roy said.

ENDS

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