Sir Patrick Lynch, former President of the Secondary Principals Association writes:
I have had the honour to have worked quite closely with 15 ministers of education since 1976. All were good people whose mission was to improve the lot of New Zealand’s young people.
However, Hekia Parata has been a stand-out performer and in my view, has been quite extraordinary in the way she has handled her portfolio.
High praise from a 40 year veteran.
She did this by setting up a regular consultation with education sector leaders which led to communication systems being strengthened and trust enhanced.
The minister put a lot of energy into the organisation, which she actively led in conjunction with all the chief executives of government departments and agencies in the education sector.
This approach enabled all senior education personnel to rub shoulders with one another every six weeks. It was a master stroke.
Groups who sometimes publicly criticised one another, quickly began to realise they all had the same goals for the education of the nation’s young people, and that they could, in fact, cooperate with one another.
A good thing.
The minister is driven by a fierce commitment to ensuring 85 per cent of students achieve at least NCEA level one.
She made it clear from the outset that Maori and Pacific students did not deserve to be destined to a life of under-achievement and this view spread to become very contagious with the leaders and practitioners in the sector, as well as most teachers.
Seldom has a minister of education been so overtly committed to student achievement in such an active and enthusiastic manner.
Fortunately, Hekia Parata was ably supported by the extraordinary leadership of a chief executive of the Ministry of Education who was appointed in the minister’s second year in the job.
Peter Hughes was a stand-out chief executive who worked very closely with her. They were a formidable duo, and changed the culture of the education sector.
Another outcome was that numbers of children in early childhood education rose quite strongly.
Close monitoring of individual student progress was done by the ministry in conjunction with particular schools and was instrumental in achieving these outcomes.
The long-term structural change initiated by the minister was the concept of communities of learning, which have been set up in many parts of the country. This change has led to a much-needed collaborative approach to learning and achievement among schools, in various locations.
The sharing of information, leadership and expertise is the focus of communities of learning and over a period of time this structural change will deliver higher levels of student achievement.
Seldom has New Zealand had a minister of education who has brought such conviction and commitment to her role, and who has been effective in doing so.
A great accolade indeed.