Outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata says a push for schools to cover all civic and social responsibilities needs to be resisted - saying families and society must step up.

Parata highlighted the issue during an exit interview with the Herald before she steps down from the role on May 1, with Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye expected to take over.

"We should demand a lot from our education system because we have a quality one. But we shouldn't demand everything," Parata said.

"Financial literacy, sex education, bullying - any number of issues - whenever they emerge in the public domain the first response is, 'This should be taught by schools'. I think there needs to be a much fairer shared responsibility here between parents, family, whanau.


"Schools are there to deliver an education. They are not there to take over all the roles and responsibilities of families or society. The more there is balance in those expectations the more the schools can have the space to be the best that it can be."

Parata was elected to Parliament in 2008 and has served as Education Minister since 2011. She has overseen the start of the biggest education reforms since 1989, including an ongoing funding review that will scrap the decile system by 2020.

One area she highlighted as needing much more work is how to improve the accountability of teachers and others in the education system.

"Quality teaching and leadership is on a continuum," Parata said. "Not everyone is excellent immediately, and I would welcome unions being prepared to accept that is the case and how do we work to raise the quality all the way along that continuum.

"That is no different to any other professional workforce but when you are just met with, 'everyone is excellent and therefore everyone deserves exactly the same'. That, again, is not very helpful."

In a think piece on that subject prepared for Treasury, Professor Helen Timperley from the University of Auckland and PhD candidate Sarah Mayo highlighted a potential accountability problem with new "Communities of Learning" [CoLs], established under Parata and a major part of her legacy.

CoLs encourage groups of local schools to work together, with teachers and principals paid more to take a lead.

Timperley and Mayo said their examination of three CoL plans showed up "worrying signs", including a collective culture focused on student deficits and that bypasses the contribution of adults.


Parata said that was not a weakness in the model, but Timperley's point was valid as a major challenge was how to lift teaching quality.

The Government had invested heavily in improving professional learning and development for teachers and measuring impact of programmes, she said.

"Everything is now being connected. Now Communities of Learning, and schools that haven't joined one, have to say, 'What does our data tell us about the challenges in terms of our students, and what does it tell us about what we have to do about teaching and learning'.

"[Timperley's] point is well made. And I think it is important that the unions don't get defensive about this because it's not an attack on teachers, or on the unions."

Parata has had her low moments in the portfolio, with most occurring in 2012 - the year she calls her annus horribilis - including an embarrassing U-turn on plans to increase class sizes, and a backlash against her handling of proposals to merge or close Christchurch schools.

But she said she was leaving content with her work. Her staff have pinned up A4 sheets of paper spelling out a message to their boss: "Since you became minister your drive to lift achievement has meant an additional 17,799 young people achieved NCEA Level 2".

"I am proud that every population cohort has lifted in the time I have been minister and I have had the full support of Cabinet to tackle some really difficult arguments, and we have found ways to talk across the table with the teacher unions and the sector leadership," Parata said, also thanking Ministry of Education staff for their "unsung" work.

Several approaches about possible post-work politics have been made, but Parata isn't planning any decision until after September.

On her office shelf is a cartoon by the Herald's Rod Emmerson depicting her jumping for joy while announcing her retirement last October. Parata is clearly excited about life after politics, but said she had "totally loved" her time as Education Minister.

"And that is different from other former ministers of education who have either said to me directly or to my husband, 'Jeez, what did she do wrong to get education?' Because it has been seen by others as the last thing I want to do. Whereas I ran for Parliament to get this job."

Hekia Parata

• One of 10 siblings. A brother and sister were brought up by relatives who were unable to have children themselves (whangai adoption).

• Involved in organising protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour.

• Quit National after former leader Don Brash's Orewa speech.

• Has been Education Minister since December 2011.