'White flight' alarms schools

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:00 19/06/2012

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The region's principals are joining the call for an end to decile ratings, following the release of figures that show a drop in Pakeha pupils at lower decile schools.

Education Ministry figures released yesterday showed that 60,000 Pakeha were attending decile one, two and three schools in 2000, but now just half that are attending those schools.

The ministry said population change, the creation of new schools and movements in schools' decile ratings as their communities' wealth changed could be behind the drop.

Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said the Government needed to review the decile system, and he doubted the ministry's reasons were the main factors behind the drop.

The only credible reason was "white flight" from low-decile schools, indicating a growing division on ethnic and socio-economic lines in the school sector, he said.

Nelson's Hampden Street School principal Don McLean said publicising a school's decile rating did not serve any purpose, and just confused parents.

"In my view, it would actually be easier if they did get rid of it."

Often parents judged schools by their decile rating without knowing exactly what the rating meant, thinking it represented the quality of the school rather than the socio-economic status of the school's zone.

The decile rating was also imperfect because pupils coming from outside the zone would affect the school's demographics without affecting its decile, he said.

"You certainly never should judge a school by the decile, but people do."

"White flight" did happen, but he did not think it was particularly bad in Nelson, with parents choosing schools for various reasons, not necessarily for the colour of their skin.

At his school, decile 7, about 13 per cent of pupils were Maori, about 6 per cent were Pacifica, 6 per cent were from Asia, about 12 per cent were European, and the rest were Pakeha, he said.

The school had become more multi-cultural over the last five years, he said.

School numbers across the region were consistent over time, he said.

Stoke School principal Pete Mitchener said the decile system confused parents, and there was a case to be made to drop the label.

In recent years fewer parents had asked about the school's decile rating, and often those that did ask needed to be taught what it meant, he said.

"I can't see a reason to promote whether you're one decile rating or another."

Stoke School's decile rating had changed from 2 to 4, and that had made a difference to funding, but the school's ethnic mix was largely unchanged, he said.

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The roll was 35 per cent Maori, 6 per cent Pacifica, with the rest Pakeha, he said.

Decile ratings should be based on the school's population, rather than the status of its zone, to avoid having a school's rating change based on "Mr Talley moving next door", he said.

Nelson Intermediate School principal Hugh Gully said he was not overly concerned with the use of decile rating, but thought it might be better termed an "equity grant".

"We benefit from it, which affords us extra teacher aide support which translates into helping our little guys."

He considered his school to have a healthy mixture of ethnicities.

A quarter of the decile 6 school's pupils were Maori, 6 per cent were from Asia, 2 per cent were from the Pacific Islands, half a per cent were from India and half a per cent were from China.

About 3 per cent were from elsewhere. The rest, about 62 per cent, were Pakeha, he said.

"The number of cultures here bring a richness and a vibrancy."

There was little evidence for a so-called "white flight" in Nelson, he said.

"Students from Nelson city attend Nelson city schools."

- The Nelson Mail

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