School decile gap still worth bridging

It is high time the Government reviewed the way it should fund primary and secondary education but the aim for greater parity between schools in rich and poor areas should not be forsaken.

Education Minister Hekia Parata yesterday expressed her dissatisfaction for decile rankings when speaking at an independent schools conference in Queenstown.

She called it a clumsy, outdated method of funding, and schools were too often using students' socio-economic status to explain or excuse themselves.

In other words, don't blame poor performance on a low-decile ranking.

Ms Parata has asked the Ministry of Education to review its funding options and said funding needed to "focus more on outcomes rather than blunt proxy".

But no matter how many times the minister, her ministry, the Education Review Office or the schools themselves say decile rankings are not a reflection of a school being "good" or "bad", parents continue to find links that are entirely tangible.

As the Manawatu Standard revealed on Saturday, a New Zealand Council for Education Research survey has found high-decile schools are netting more than $1000 of funding per student more than their low-decile counterparts.

The capability of high-decile schools to raise funds, market themselves and reap parental donations so far outstrips that of low-decile schools that it completely negates the additional Government funding low-decile schools receive.

Ms Parata wouldn't comment on the report, other than to doubt its validity, but a similar, smaller survey carried out in Auckland by the New Zealand Education Institute bore the same result - a $1100 funding disparity per student between decile 10 and decile 1.

This study found high-decile schools were able to call on "power mums" to organise hugely profitable fundraising events whereas, in low-decile schools, "parent help" was just as likely to mean school programmes to help parents as vice versa.

Principals at low-decile schools said their children regularly started school two years behind "normal" levels. Their needs were immediate and overwhelming, leaving little time for fundraising.

High-decile schools' ability to engage and monetise their communities is of huge benefit: more funding, more resourcing, attract the best teachers.

Their high-decile ranking may not directly correspond to academic performance, but the socioeconomic markers that determine their rank provides them with the capability and the culture to provide students with the best environment in which to perform.

Any future funding model must still attempt to bridge at least some of that gap.

Manawatu Standard