Unity of purpose: a successful ISTP Summit

Issue: Volume 93, Number 7

Posted: 5 May 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctQ

In what could be considered the most important international education event to take place on our shores, the
New Zealand delegation to the International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted an event that gave visitors a flavour of New Zealand, setting the scene for inspiring, invigorating, and above all, productive discussion.

ISTP summit meeting on the marae at Te Papa

On 28 and 29 March, some of the world’s leading education luminaries and policy makers convened in Wellington for the fourth annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession. This was the first time New Zealand has hosted an education conference of this magnitude; delegations from 26 countries included ministers of education, union representatives, and leading academics.

The event is jointly convened by the Minister of Education of the host country, the OECD, and Education International. In total, around 400 people attended the summit, its largest ever patronage – a feat that Minister Hekia Parata says is a credit to the strength and reputation of education in New Zealand.

One of the most prominent persons in international education to attend the summit was Andreas Schleicher, OECD deputy director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the OECD’s Secretary General. He said the summit was a powerful demonstration of how much can be achieved when parties who sometimes find themselves at opposite ends of the table, such as ministers and union leaders, come together in the spirit of cooperation around the one goal that underpins the efforts of all in education: giving the young people of the world the best possible tools to build their own future, and that of our societies as a whole.

“The international nature of the event allowed participants to rise above local politics and see the bigger picture behind entrenched industrial issues. The informality and warm hospitality of our hosts, combined with the exceptional leadership by Minister Parata, provided just the right environment for this summit to succeed.”

Summit themes

Discussion sessions covered a wide range of topics, but all were centred on the over-arching theme of the summit: ‘Excellence, Equity, and Inclusiveness – high quality teaching for all.’

Minister Parata says that when delegations presented to the final session of the weekend, it was obvious that all had engaged with the biggest issues facing education around the world and were leaving with renewed focus and new ideas and actions to take back to their home countries for implementation.

The New Zealand delegation comprised the Minister of Education, president of the Secondary Principals Association, and the presidents of teacher unions NZEI and PPTA. The Kiwi contingent presented to the summit two key actions that resulted from discussion over the course of the weekend: the adoption of a systemic approach to professional learning communities across the country and making visible the child-centred pathway for each learner from ECE to tertiary. Minister Parata and the delegation made a commitment to effect real progress in these areas by the time the 2015 summit happens in Canada.

A number of actions arising from the 2012 conference have been successfully implemented, including the development of communities of schools and career pathways for principals and teachers, through the Government working together with the teaching profession; and a review of professional development and learning, led by the profession.

In addition, the Government has initiated the following:

  • Establishing the Ministerial Cross-Sector Forum to build a coalition amongst the profession to lift student achievement.
  • Introducing the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards.
  • Announcing an investment of $359m into career pathways for teachers and principals.
  • Hosting education festivals in Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
  • Establishing a new professional body for teachers and leaders.

Summit meeting

In summing up the spirit of the summit, Minister Parata said, “The summit is a great opportunity for the top performing education systems to share successes and challenges.

“It has been an invaluable opportunity to work with and learn from other successful education systems from around the world and agree on concrete actions we can take to further improve our own.”

Welcoming and listening

Tom Parsons, president of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand (SPANZ), says that the summit began on a high note, which set a tone of urgency and invigoration for the whole conference.

“There’s been many times in my life when I’ve been proud to be a New Zealander; one could argue every day, in fact. But the opening pōwhiri [of the summit] and the tikanga and respect that was afforded our international guests … I didn’t know whether to be humbled or proud. It was an absolutely magnificent spectacle and a magnificent thing to be part of.

“For me, it set the tone. I was very conscious of the fact that I was seated in the shadows of some of the educational giants of the OECD, yet I was struck by the commonality of the issues that were discussed. All of the ministers of state seemed really focused on doing the best they possibly can for all of their kids because they recognise how important it is. So to be part of that, and to recognise that we’re all singing from the same song-sheet, was truly inspiring.”

Tom says something that struck him was the esteem in which the New Zealand delegation seemed to be held by our international guests.

“Almost without exception, the delegations and ministers listened. Whether that is because of the persona of our Minister, whether it has something to do with the powerful welcome they experienced, I don’t know. It seemed that all recognised that we [New Zealand education as a whole] are special, and that we’re working very hard on the unification of our purpose. They seemed keen to learn from our experiences. Whenever I joined a group, they wanted to know what education in New Zealand is like on the ground.”

Important themes

During his discussions with guests, in both a formal and informal setting, Tom picked up on several threads that he says many were curious to learn more about. One was priority learners.

“We all know that we’re trying to raise the achievement of that bottom quotient, but as you’ll be aware, the emphasis is changing somewhat, more towards ‘5 out of 5’ so to speak. Everyone’s a priority learner. Everyone was very keen to hear how we were going about tackling the challenges of ensuring full inclusivity.”

It would seem that some distinguished guests left New Zealand shores with plenty to think about, having shared with New Zealand’s representatives some of their wisdom. Andreas Schleicher says that a stand-out discussion that inspired him was around the delicate issue of accountability.

“I was most intrigued by the discussion on accountability. This was not the usual debate between governments asking for more data and unions asking for more blind trust in their members but, as one union member put it, it was about moving from narrow accountability about isolated aspects of education, towards a framework of accountability that looks at the education system as a whole, with coherent messages that help students to learn better, teachers to teach better and schools to work more effectively and equitably.”

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:12 AM, 5 May 2014

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