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Going For Gold

Posted on 20 Jun 2009

Hon Heather Roy opening address to the SPELD New Zealand National Conference; Quality Hotel Plymouth International, New Plymouth; Saturday, June 20 2009.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Thank you Michael for your warm welcome.

I am delighted to be here today to join SPELD New Zealand in welcoming you all to this conference. I would like to acknowledge your hosts, SPELD Taranaki, and thank the conference team and the Executive and Board for inviting me to speak to you this morning.

It is also a pleasure to welcome your impressive line-up of keynote speakers, who have all travelled to be here: Dr Linda Silverman, Jan Polkinghome and Professor Tom Nicholson. In my experience conferences always stimulate ones enthusiasm and I suspect you will all go home at the end of the weekend with a renewed sense of purpose.

The theme for your conference, 'Going for Gold - Celebrating Creativity', is about celebrating and supporting students with different abilities and learning styles.

For well over 30 years, your organisation - largely voluntary - has been providing valuable support for students with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities.

In that time, SPELD has taken its members from being a disparate group of committed individual teachers - who were often regarded as 'alternative' or 'on the fringe' - to being a credible, well-organised, forward-looking organisation. The insight and work of Jenny Tebbutt, Rodney Barber and others over the past three years - and the appointment of Toni Griffiths - have been paramount.

SPELD has, to date, not received Government funding. I know that at times this has been discussed and you will probably in the future consider lobbying government for funding. This is never an easy decision because 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.

Funding is always hard to come by but, in the current economic climate fundraising is more challenging than ever, SPELD continues to do a great job. I recognise the frustration you feel at not being able to help more of those needing educational assistance.

Choice in education is something that both the ACT and National Parties believe is important for parents. This Government wants students to have choices in education, and for parents and students to be better informed about how they are achieving within that system.

As Associate Minister of Education and, perhaps more importantly, as a parent I know there is no 'one size fits all' education that suits our children - and especially for those students who have special needs or earning disabilities.

It is for this reason that ACT's Confidence & Supply Agreement with the National Party includes the establishment of an inter-Party working group to explore and consider options for increasing choice in all types of education.

In Parliament last September all political Parties ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 24 of that convention is about education, and states that the rights of persons with disabilities to an education must be realised without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity.

We know that good teaching benefits all students, and we know that every classroom has a diverse range of learners. This government is committed to providing the best educational opportunities for all students.

In my view, this means providing students and families with choice; with the freedom to choose the education that best suits their child - whether that be through State schools or Independent schools; through special schools, satellites or units; through inclusive learning environments; or through other options, such as organisations like yours.

As you all know well, either from your experience as parents or educators - or both - a small percentage of students will experience persistent difficulty in their learning. Research indicates that just over seven percent of all school students in New Zealand have specific learning disabilities - around 50,000 students throughout the country at any given time.

Of those students, SPELD currently works with 2,174 - each of whom has unique needs that are not being met with a single approach.

The Government is well aware of this, and of the urgency with which the learning needs of these students must be met.

The term 'learning disabilities' can mean different things to different people and groups - leading to common misconceptions about their nature and resulting needs. For instance: while dyslexia is a learning disability that isn't always diagnosed, many children who may be struggling with reading are labelled 'dyslexic' despite the fact that they may have other issues.

Towards this end, the Ministry of Education has developed a working definition of dyslexia. This definition has been formulated on the basis of a literature review, and with input from the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand and Professor Bill Tunmer from Massey University.

The working definition states that dyslexia encompasses a spectrum of specific learning difficulties - including problems with reading, writing, spelling, numeracy or musical notation.

It is clear - in fact just common sense - that the early identification of such difficulties is critical. Identification must then be followed by individualised teaching and specialist support to enable students to participate in the full range of learning opportunities across the curriculum.

It is for this reason that the Education Ministry focuses on supporting classroom teachers to identify and develop appropriate programmes for all students.
Schools, teachers and educators are encouraged to design support based on each student's specific needs. Resources are allocated on the basis of specific behaviours and difficulties, rather than automatically on the basis of a diagnosis.

For students who need extra support, including those identified as dyslexic, there are specialist teachers available to work with them and their teachers. This provision includes: Resource Teachers: Literacy; Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour; Reading Recovery programmes; and Learning Support Teachers.
In addition, schools are directly funded with a Special Education Grant and Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement. Schools make their own decisions about how they use this funding to meet the identified needs of their learners.

Schools undertaking literacy professional development contracts for 2009 are trained to identify the needs of 'at risk' students, including those with dyslexia. Teachers are also supported with resources like 'Sounds and Words', an online resource for teaching phonological awareness and spelling available on the Te Kete Ipurangi - or TKI - website and literature produced by the Ministry of Education.

No matter what our education system offers, however, some children and young people just require additional assistance - it's a plain as that. That assistance often has to be accessed from programmes that exist outside those offered in the mainstream. This is where organisations like SPELD come to the fore.

I'd now like to talk briefly about Budget 2009, which was announced last month against the backdrop of global economic challenges.
With the Government needing to make every dollar count, we have focused on delivering on priorities in education that have been funded through the addition of new funds as well as the re-prioritisation of existing funds.

Despite the Government having to make some hard decisions, Budget 2009 commits to a range of new initiatives - including supporting schools to: raise literacy and numeracy achievement and support more special education students to realise their potential.

Our Government is committed to a devolved system of decision-making. It is working to ensure that over time a greater proportion of education funding is invested in the front line in our schools, and that less is tied up in bureaucracy.

Around $36 million will be invested over four years to support the Government's Crusade for Literacy and Numeracy. This includes implementing National Standards, and additional assistance to schools where a high numbers of students are not meeting the Standards.

National Standards aim to lift achievement in reading, writing, and maths. Each standard will clearly state the expected level of achievement of each child and by when, compared with others at that age and level across New Zealand.

It is important to realise that, while they will set clear expectations, standards will not be fixed hoops that all must jump through at a certain time - we know students learn at different rates.

But the information will help students; their teachers; and parents, families and whanau to better understand what they are aiming for and what they need to do next.

The standards are based on literacy learning progressions and will provide teachers with highly effective tools for deciding if students need additional support, or different approaches and interventions.

The Ministry of Education has been carrying out a consultation process on National Standards throughout the country. All English and Maori-medium schools will use National Standards from 2010.

For standards to make a difference, we need to keep the student firmly at the centre of school decision-making. And in our wider system we need to always focus on learning.

For many years it has been common practice in New Zealand schools for teachers to use the Observation Survey after children have received one year of literacy instruction. Helping schools to use this information to meet the unique learning needs of each student is a major focus for all Ministry literacy work.

The five tasks that make up the Observation Survey include: Letter Identification, Concepts About Print, Word Recognition, Writing Vocabulary, and Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words. These remain strong indicators of a child's ability to control the component tasks of literacy learning.

The Observation Survey, in conjunction with an analysis of text reading, provides teachers with comprehensive information about the child's learning.

Work is underway as part of the National Standards development to map current assessment tools and review areas where further tools may be required.

With this work in progress, and other assessment tools already available, teachers are in a strong position to make evidence-based decisions about the particular strengths and needs of their students.

With regard to Special Education, I am confident that further improvements can be made in terms of the services provided and the policies and processes in place. The Government is committed to ensuring that there is more support for students with Special Education needs, and it has made Special Education a priority. ORRS funding was increased in the Budget by $51 million over four years - this will fund an extra 1100 students. Schools High Health Needs also received an extra $2.5 million to fund 250 students.

That is why responsibility for Special Education is a specific delegated area of responsibility, rather than a small facet of another area within the wider Education portfolio. By delegating Special education to an Associate Minister of Education, this Government is ensuring that Special Education is a priority that will receive the attention and consideration is warrants - attention that it might otherwise only have received peripherally.

It is for this reason that the National party committed to a comprehensive review of the Special Education sector before the election. I am delighted to be leading this review because the current way of supporting students with Special Education needs was developed in the mid-1990s, and much has changed since then. We must be sure that the Government's investment in Special Education - over $450 million - is delivering positive outcomes for children and young people. The taxpayer needs to know that money earmarked for education is being spent effectively.

The review will examine how well Special Education is working and how it can be improved. The details of the review are being developed now and will be publicly announced once they are finalised.

I would like to say how encouraging it is to see an organisation like SPELD making strong and positive steps toward the future - taking a strategic view, sorting priorities, establishing a vision and a mission, and planning effectively with well thought-out goals and objectives in place.

I know that your Board has been working on a change proposal to carry your organisation forward so that it is well placed to tackle the challenges that inevitably lie ahead. Change is both exciting and scary and rarely easy, but it is important to constantly assess the effectiveness of one's goals, objectives and plans in order to provide a quality service. I expect you will have some robust discussions and debates around your change proposal. Although sometimes frustrating it is also healthy. I wish you wisdom in your decision-making.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you all on the extremely valuable work you do in supporting students with learning disabilities throughout New Zealand.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak with you today, and I wish you well for the rest of your conference.


Don’t Pay More Than You Have To This Winter

Posted on 19 Jun 2009

Minister of Consumer Affairs Heather Roy today reminded consumers that they shouldn't have to switch heaters off and shiver in blankets in order to cuts costs and save money on their power bills this winter.

"By visiting, consumers are able to explore their options and ensure that they aren't paying more than they actually have to," Mrs Roy said.

"Since 2001, Powerswitch - run by Consumer NZ and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs - has provided a free, independent, internet-based electricity cost comparison service. This service allows consumers to determine whether they are on the pricing plan that best suits their needs - or even whether they are signed up to the most appropriate electricity provider.

"All it takes is a few clicks and some information from the consumer's latest power bill to see if money could be saved by switching to a new plan or power company. Alternatively, consumers may find that they are already on the best plan for their needs.

"Electricity is a core household cost, and families' power bills inevitably increase during the winter months. As the economic downturn bites, however, families are also mindful of the need to cuts costs and save money.

"Transferring to an alternate plan, or switching power companies, is an easy way to ensure that money isn't spent unnecessarily. I'm encouraging all consumers to visit the Powerswitch website this winter - and avoid shivering through winter wrapped in blankets in an attempt to save on power," Mrs Roy said.


Heather Roy's Diary

Posted on 14 Jun 2009

Gifted and Talented Kids Shouldn't Be Forgotten
At a time when the media all too often focuses on young people who are in trouble or who are troubled, it can be easy develop a skewed perspective of our young people in general. It is easy to forget that the vast majority of our young people are hard-working and dedicated.

This week, for example, I was invited to present first prize at the Wellington Stage Challenge. I was amazed at the professional performances of the thousands of 11-18 year-olds which can only result from large degrees of talent, commitment and hard work combined.

In our schools there are many gifted and talented children who have needs as real as those others who have fallen through the cracks. Next week will see the start of an initiative to remind us - June 15-22 is Gifted Awareness week, an initiative established by the Gifted Education Centre designed to raise awareness of the centre and of the needs of gifted students throughout the country.

The Gifted Education Centre was established in 1995 and originally named the George Parkyn Centre, in recognition of educational researcher Professor George Parkyn. One of New Zealand's most distinguished scholars in this field, Professor Parkyn was involved with UNESCO in Paris, as well as with universities in the UK and US.

Here in New Zealand he was Director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, he produced the research that led to our current university assessment system and was the founding patron of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children until his death in 1993.

The centre was renamed the Gifted Education Centre in 2007 and last year organised the first ever Gifted Awareness Week with events - including 'Scrabbleathon', public meetings, sculptor visits, workshops and open days - held throughout the country.

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.

One of my delegated roles as Associate Minister of Education is responsibility for Gifted and Talented students.

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.

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.

For the first time national and regional gifted educational organisations have joined forces to highlight the needs of gifted students in New Zealand. During Gifted Awareness week those interested can increase their understanding by participating in a gifted focused activity organised by one of the following organisations.

Ideas have been supplied by the Gifted Education Centre; giftEDnz, the Professional Association for Gifted Education; the Gifted Kids Programme; the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children; REACH education; the Christchurch Association for Gifted Education; the Otago Association for Gifted and Talented; the Canterbury Association for Gifted Children and Youth; North Canterbury Support for Gifted and Talented Children; and the Waikato Association for Gifted Children. Links to these activities and ideas can be found on and

Lest We Forget - First US Troops Land In Auckland (June 12 1942)
As part of the support for the Allies' counter-offensive against Japan, around 100,000 US servicemen were stationed in New Zealand between 1942 and 1944.
With anywhere from 15,000-45,000 US troops mainly around Auckland and Wellington at any one time, the situation was dubbed the 'American invasion' - especially given that many US Navy and merchant marine personnel spent time here along with the US soldiers and marines.

This resulted in a considerable culture shock for both visitors and host. Many US soldiers had recently experienced warfare on a Pacific island and were now, according to their army-issued pocket guide, 'deep in the heart of the South Seas'.

Meanwhile, American success with Kiwi women created resentment among many New Zealand men, including large numbers of those serving overseas - leading to common use of the British description for US troops: "over-paid, over-sexed and over here."

The end of the American invasion was a gradual process beginning in the final months of 1943. Some New Zealanders were relieved to see them go, while for others it was an occasion of sadness - and, later grief at the news of Americans killed in battle. For both visitors and hosts the brief encounter left powerful memories, some of which live on today.


Heather Roy's Diary

Posted on 05 Jun 2009

Special Education - Where Choice Is Vital
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.
For this reason it was interesting to see the IHC-commissioned report 'Learning Better Together' was released on Wednesday.

'Learning Better Together' is the latest step in IHC's long-standing campaign to promote 'inclusive schools' - schools that welcome and teach all students in their communities, regardless of whether those students are intellectually disabled or not.

The report found that: disabled students in regular classrooms do better than those in segregated special education; there is no evidence that special education provides specialist approaches that benefit disabled students; the advantages of learning in regular classrooms are shown to continue into adulthood; having disabled students in regular classrooms benefits all students; disabled students say teachers do not always have a good understanding about how their impairments, and the way others treat them, can affect their school life.

The mainstreaming philosophy is favoured by many parents. 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. It is their right to do so in a free society.

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."

Choice is key when it comes to the education of our 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 IHC's comments and the submission of 'Learning Better Together' as part of that process - as 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.

Lest We Forget - D-Day (June 6 1944)
This Sunday I will join New Zealand and British veterans at the National War Memorial to commemorate the D-Day Normandy landings of World War II.

At dawn on June 6 1944, thousands of Allied troops landed on the Normandy beaches and stormed ashore. By midnight more than 150,000 Allied soldiers had been safely landed.

The largest amphibious military operation in history, the landings were the first stage of 'Operation Overlord' - the Allied push to liberate Western Europe from Nazi Germany.

Although no New Zealand ground forces landed at Normandy, around 10,000 Royal New Zealand Air Force and Navy personnel served with the British ships and air force squadrons that supported the D-Day landings.

Once the Normandy beachheads were secured, a three-week military build-up occurred before Operation Cobra - the operation to break out from the Normandy beachhead - began.

The battle for Normandy lasted over two months, ending with the liberation of Paris and the German retreat across the Seine in August 1944.


Heather Roy's Diary

Posted on 29 May 2009

Navy Gets New Ferrari

In my capacity as the Associate Minister of Defence, I today represented the New Zealand Government at a Navy Acceptance Ceremony in Whangarei. Her Majesty's New Zealand Ship (HMNZS) Taupo was formally handed over to the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The ceremony – held at the BAE Shipyard – followed a whakawhetai (thanksgiving) conducted by Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) kaumatua and local iwi, and took the form of a Division and First Colours ceremony. It was hosted by Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Tony Parr MVO and attended by representatives from BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence.

The last of four Inshore Patrol Vessels built under Project Protector by BAE Systems, the HMNZS Taupo is not the first New Zealand naval vessel of its name – the original Taupo having operated during World War II.

That Taupo was a WWII Loch-class frigate – the class was all named for Scottish lochs – built in 1944 and originally dubbed the HMS Loch Shin. Part of the British navy, the vessel escorted a number of Russian convoys and was involved in the sinking of two German U-boats. In 1948, she – along with five other ships – was transferred to the Royal New Zealand Navy and re-named ‘Taupo'.

The ship handed over today, however, was first launched in August 2008 when Lady Her Excellency Mrs Susan Satyanand cut the ribbon releasing the champagne bottle on to its bow. The laying of the mauri (life force) for this vessel was then completed on April 17 2009.

Unlike her predecessor, Taupo is an In Shore Patrol Vessel (IPV) – a class of vessel based on a Tenix-designed search and rescue vessel in service with the Philippines Coast Guard.

These vessels are versatile and capable of multi-agency operations in support of national security tasks. The Taupo is 55 metres long with a minimum 3,000-nautical mile range, although sea trials show the range closer to double the contracted requirement.

The Taupo and her sister IPVs – the Rotoiti, Hawea and Pukaki – will make a significant contribution to the patrolling of New Zealand's 15,000-kilometre coastline, as well as our Exclusive Economic Zone out to 200 nautical miles. Her primary role will be to patrol, and respond to maritime security incidents within the in-shore zone around New Zealand.

In addition to patrolling, the IPVs will fulfil other tasks as required. These will include surveillance, response and boarding operations, and search and rescue. Secondary roles will include New Zealand disaster relief and defence aid to the civil community. Each vessel will carry 20 naval personnel and four Government agency officers, but they also have the capacity to host 12 additional personnel onboard for general naval training or other duties.

The introduction of the Taupo and her sister IPVs are an exciting development. According to the RNZN, comparing these ships to the Inshore Patrol Craft of the 1990s would be tantamount to comparing a Ferrari to a Toyota Hilux.

This is because the IPVs are much faster, highly manoeuvrable, and feature active fin stabilisers – providing a comfortable ride. Being specifically designed to undertake various tasks for several Government agencies – such as Customs, Ministry of Fisheries, DoC, Police, MFAT, NZDF and Maritime New Zealand – the IPVs are the most capable and sophisticated patrol vessels the RNZN has ever possessed.

In fact, the RNZN is sure there will be senior officers watching the IPV Commanding Officers with envy as they take command of their vessels – the introduction of which, it is hoped, will also enhance recruitment and retention as they frequent ports around the country.

Once final testing and training are completed, the Taupo will embark on her maiden voyage from Whangarei to Devonport next week. I will be onboard and will be able to witness for myself the value of her addition to the RNZN fleet.

Lest We Forget – The Budget
Budget Day is one of the most notable days of the Parliamentary year and with this week's delivery of the first Budget by a National-led Government in a decade, it is fitting that we look back at another Budget that made its mark in history.

When the fourth Labour Government swept to power in the snap election of 1984, then Minister of Finance Roger Douglas inherited an economy in disarray with a deficit equivalent to around $20 billion in today's terms.

Thanks to the outgoing Muldoon Government New Zealand was in the grip of heavy import controls, wages and prices were frozen, industries were propped up by subsidies and tariffs, and credit was difficult to access.

In a bid to offset these and bring the economy out of crisis, Roger began implementing the policies that became known as ‘Rogernomics'. His November 8 1984 Budget included: measures to control inflation, the removal of various subsidies and tariffs, and the privatisation of some public assets.

Roger also introduced GST, launched a family care package of $10 a week per child, imposed a surcharge on additional income earned by superannuitants, introduced a fringe benefit tax, and removed the rebate for first home buyers. These measures helped to turn a failing economy around in three years – a major feat under the circumstances.

While many saw that the reforms were needed to revive the economy, others viewed the policies as a betrayal of Labour's ideology. Despite the criticism, however, it is interesting to note that the 1984 Labour Government was re-elected in 1987 and no subsequent Government has repealed the reforms since they were implemented nearly 25 years ago.


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