The speech we have been waiting for
By Chris Hipkins
The speech we have been waiting for - Click here.
Speech: Success for every
Speech to the
Auckland Primary Principals
Thank you for inviting me to speak
to you today.
This is the first opportunity I’ve had to address a larger audience of education
professionals since I formally took up the role as Labour’s Education
Up until now I’ve been out and about, listening to your views and concerns, and
discussing how we can do things better.
The feedback I’ve had can be divided into two
groups of thinking. One group asks questions like “why aren’t you sticking it to the government
more?”, while the other asks “why are the Labour Party always so negative?”
So today I hope to prove that it
is indeed possible to walk and chew gum at the same time by setting out some initial thinking on an
alternative positive approach to education by Labour,whilst simultaneously but very positively
spelling out the things the present government are doing wrong.
In the 1930s, Labour’s first Minister of Education, and subsequent Prime
Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Fraser set out a vision for education that is as relevant today as it was
“The [Labour] government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever
their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free
education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their
I’ve often wondered what Peter Fraser would make of some of the current debates that
dominate the education agenda.
Would he accept, as the current National government seems to, that the success
of our education system can be boiled down to national standards and NCEA level
When he spoke of providing every citizen with an education of the kind for which they are
best fitted, did he envisage a system where every child had to meet an arbitrary and narrowly
focused set of standards?
I suspect he wouldn’t, given he subsequently stated:
“Schools that are to cater for the
whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of
the children who enter them.”
And that highlights at the most fundamental level the difference in approach
towards education taken by Labour and National.
We recognise that everybody is different, that
children learn different things at different times, and that students are far more likely to
be engaged in education if they are taught abroad and varied curriculum.
Zealand has one of the best
education systems in the world, and our curriculum is widely recognised for its competency-based
approach and for the flexibility it provides.
Listening to just about any member of the
current government speaking about education, it’s sometimes easy to forget
Rather than starting from the presumption that there is something inherently wrong with our
education system and it needs to be ‘fixed’, I prefer to adopt the attitude that our challenge is
taking a very good education system and making it even better.
Our first focus has to be
rebuilding trust and redefining what success looks like.
Success in education is about
making sure every child achieves their full potential.
Success means every school is a
Success means we value great teachers.
And success means we recognise and
celebrate diversity and difference.
I mentioned every
school being a great school. I totally reject the notion that increasing competition between schools
will lead to better outcomes for everyone.
National’s charter schools agenda will take
resources away from public schools and channel them into private profit-making
Charter schools won’t have to
employ registered teachers, won’t have to teach to our world-leading curriculum,and won’t be subject
to the same accountability measures as public schools.
It’s ironic at a time when central
government is imposing ever greater compliance burdens on public schools, and striving for ever
greater degrees of ‘standardisation’, it is using those very constraints as reasons for
adopting a new model of schooling provision.
I’ve sat through hours of select committee
hearings on charter schools and nothing has convinced me that the greater flexibility and focus on
results the government seeks can’t be achieved if we resource and support our existing schools
let me be very clear about Labour’s position on charter schools. We see no need for them. We see no
place for them. And any charter schools established under the current National government will have
no future under Labour.
Our focus will be on ensuring that every school is a great
I mentioned that success means we value great
Research here and around the world clearly shows that quality teaching has the
greatest in-school influence on student achievement.
Quality teaching is more likely to happen in a
collaborative educational environment than a competitive one.
collaborate,teachers should be part of collaborative professional networks, and the sink-or-swim
mentality of Tomorrow’s Schools needs to change.
One of the most destructive things this
government could do to quality education in New
Zealand is introduce so-called ‘performance pay’ based on a narrow
range of student achievement measures.
If the alarm bells aren’t already ringing, they should
When the Treasury talks about setting “clear performance expectations” and in the same
breath talks about increasingly “flexibility for principals to incentivise and reward effective
practice by teachers” I automatically become suspicious.
Because what will
those‘performance expectations’ involve?
You can bet your bottom dollar that National
Standards will be part of the equation.
National Standards results are no measure of
National Standards narrow the focus of teaching, encouraging teachers and
students to focus time and attention on getting students over an arbitrary hurdle, rather than
supporting that child to achieve their full potential.
National Standards are being used
to stereotype schools through league tables that don’t measure student progress, only the number of
students jumping the hurdle at a particular time.
We need a much broader and more encompassing
view of educational success than National Standards results.
Under Labour, we will work
collaboratively with the education community to replace National Standards with something that is
meaningful, broad, and that will work.
We recognise that parents want to know how their kids are going, but they’re
just as interested in how their kids are doing in Art and PE as they are in reading and
Parents also want to know how their kid’s social interactions are
National standards tell them nothing about any of those
Parents are entitled to quality information,and by and large schools work really hard to
make sure they get that.
But we also need to make sure that parents understand that league tables that
aggregate a bunch of inconsistent data don’t provide any reliable basis for comparing the
performance of schools.
And without a doubt, we need to recognise many of the out-of-school factors that
influence student achievement.
When I asked Patrick Walsh at a select committee hearing recently what he
thought the biggest thing the government could to lift student achievement was he replied implement
a living wage. I nearly jumped for joy.
To quote another former Labour Prime Minister,
“Men and women are not free to
develop their own souls, to express their own individual personalities, to contribute according to
their individual capacities to the world’s cultural inheritance – they are not free to do any of
these things so long as the fact and fear of economic insecurity confronts
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that economic inequality is a major contributing
factor to educational inequality.
Eliminating child poverty has to be a central plank of any plan to improve
These are challenging and exciting times to be working in
Thank you for the enormous contribution you’re making to the country’s future
I’m looking forward to working
with you in the coming months to develop, refine, and articulate a positive alternative approach to
education in New
now happy to answer any questions.