Changes to Ministry of Education funding for college students in trades academies have frustrated principals, causing extra work and leading to staffing cuts at one school.
Nayland College principal Rex Smith said his staff would be reduced by four next year, partly because of a predicted roll decrease of 40 students but also due to the implications of a new staffing formula for students opting into the Nelson Tasman Trades Academy.
Those students attend a skill-based trades academy course one day a week instead of their regular on-campus classes.
Mr Smith said three teaching positions will be disestablished at Nayland, by a combination of early retirement and voluntary redundancy. The senior management team has been reduced from four to three.
Traditionally, colleges have been funded for teachers' salaries based on the number of students enrolled, Mr Smith said.
Under the new staffing structure, funding for trades academy students is divided separately and paid into the school's operational budget. Mr Smith said that resulted in a reduced allocation of ministry-funded staff.
"With about 40 students on trades academy courses, it means we are in a position where that staffing no longer gets paid for through the normal roll," he said.
Uncertainty around trades academy enrolments also meant schools were having to make difficult decisions about where and how to spend that allocation of funding within the school.
Waimea College has about 70 students in the Nelson Tasman Trades Academy.
Principal Larry Ching said he and his staff have had to do a lot of extra work to understand what the funding change means for his school.
"I have spent more time around my staffing this year, other than my first couple of years in the job, than I have ever spent around it.
"And also, we are finalising staffing really late in the piece because of this," he said.
He said the result is that a small number of appointments at Waimea have been made on a 12-month fixed-term basis, rather than fulltime, he said.
His biggest frustration is how the change has reduced Waimea's property development funding.
"Essentially, the ministry is saying ‘for one day a week a certain number of students are not in your school, so therefore we are not giving you the property entitlement that those students would generate'.
While the immediate dollar value of lost funding because of those 70 students was not a lot, "over a three-to-five-year period, along which most of our property programmes operate, it is significant", he said.
"In our case it seems on the surface that we have shifted from a situation where we were entitled to property increases. Under trades academy roll changes we now do not qualify for increases."
His concern is shared by Motueka High School principal Scott Haines who says the new funding model "continues to be a major frustration".
He said trades academy students were not entitled to full ministry funding on the basis that they would be off campus for up to a day per week.
"Unfortunately, while this sounds fair and reasonable, the cost structure of running a school does not alter when these students are away so schools are effectively losing funding with each student we enrol into a trades academy course.
"This loss of funding then impacts on curriculum choices and resourcing for students.
"It is proving to be a tenuous situation with schools doing their best to meet the needs of students who wish to pursue vocational or trades pathways, while not disadvantaging the students who remain on campus for five days per week."
Graham Stoop, the Ministry of Education's head of graduate achievement, vocations and careers, said he was not aware of any staffing cuts due to the funding changes.
He said the funding allocation changes would "allow schools and
tertiary providers more freedom to be ‘student centred' and collaborate to offer more choices and opportunities to students and achieve better outcomes for them".
"This does require the institutions involved to spend time working together," Mr Stoop said. "It is quite reasonable in the first year of a new funding model for schools to be going through a process of learning how to include their trades academy funding into their normal planning and budgeting processes.
"That's why the ministry has had advice and support available for schools as required," he said. "We are confident that most schools are well provided for through this funding model and that no school is worse off."
From next year, Nelson College will also participate in the Nelson Tasman Trades Academy, headmaster Gary O'Shea has confirmed.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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