Archive for Deciles

More blessed to give donations than to receive a compulsory fee?

Something seems to have gone a little awry when the principal of a large Auckland school calls for state schools to be allowed to charge a compulsory fee especially when that school collects $1.9 million from 78% of its families through school “donations”.

The claim is made that a student in a low decile school gets $932 more than a student in a high decile school.  This might be true but I do know that some time ago I did a little exercise to compare the low decile school of which I was Principal with a particular Decile 10 school and, when roll numbers were equalised and other factors such as incidental costs and other forms of income taken into account, the high decile school had an overall funding advantage of about 25%.

Now that was a long time ago (mid-1990s) and I accept that the gap has narrowed a little as governments have set out to address the differentials in student achievement and student need.

That is why it is a little less than the whole picture to claim advantage for low decile schools – that is perhaps why the principal was careful to note that the differences were for state funding. The whole picture needs to include:

  • the capacity of the school to collect “donations” from its parents and a high level of fee (oops, that should read “donation”) from a very high percentage of parents;
  • the capability of the school to attract international fee paying students which is generally income at the margins with perhaps additional support with English – but it is a worthwhile income stream for high decile schools;
  •  the willingness of parents to pay the costs of participation in many activities;
  •  the support that is derived from alumni of the school;
  •  the response of parents when asked to provide digital devices for the students
  •  the generally large size of the high decile schools’ rolls;
  •  and so on…

The fundamental principles of the New Zealand education system are that it be universal, free, and secular.

The first of these, universal education, is clear and remains the goal. The level of children under the school leaving age who disengage from school challenges the system in achieving universal education which could well be better measured in terms of outcomes rather than the simplistic and now inadequate measure of whether they can get to a school.

The third of these, secular education, was strengthened with the development in the early 1970s of the category of “state integrated” schools. Most school systems have their church school with varying degree of independence and that provides for parent choice in the matter of values and religious observance.

But “free” means “free” – no child should be denied an education because they cannot pay. It does not mean that those who can pay more shouldn’t do so, but in “state schools” parents cannot be forced to pay more. Of course schools all over the country test this principle with donations requested in a manner that implies compulsion, extravagant school uniforms that cost ridiculous sums of money, demands that students have their own digital devices, and increasingly charges associated with activities.

State schools are state schools. I am not troubled, as Chris Hipkins seems to be, by the thought that the schools raising the matter of compulsory fees would become more elite. Too late Chris. They already are. Look at housing costs in the XYZ Zone. The recent report in the newspaper about all this concluded that rather than buy houses at inflated prices to get into the XYZ Zone and taking into account the subsequent cost of schooling, parents might be better off to buy outside the zone and send their child to an independent school. That is a telling conclusion that surprised me.

 

And coming in at number five!

 

The New Zealand Government spends $13.3 billion a year on education and of that $130m is directed towards reflecting the increased needs of some communities when it comes to education.

Despite the relatively small size of this decile funding pool, the media is trying hard to get a beat-up going even before the actual impact of the recalculations are known. “Deciles” were introduced into our system to achieve one thing, provide a mechanism that would allow additional funding to be directed towards areas of greater need.  It is a relatively sophisticated approach that takes into account the multiple factors that compound to create educational disadvantage.

Deciles were not introduced to allow schools to have bragging rights.

Deciles were not introduced to make it easier for real estate agents to talk up house prices in some areas.

Deciles were not introduced to make possible the absurd level if daily flight that occurs (especially in Auckland) as parents drive their SUVs across and around the city to deliver the little ones at a “better school”.

But the most elegant aspect of the decile rating system is that it is based neither on untested assumptions nor on blind prejudices. It is simply a picture of the slice of the specific members of the community who attend a specific school.

So there is no need for the bleating that has started already about “losing” funding. Funding is what you get, no more no less. Schools get funding also on the number of students, the age and experience of the staff, the property needs and so on. The decile funding lags a little behind over the actual period during which a school’s demography changes to produce an increase in the decile rating. Such a school has probably been over-funded during the period when this change has taken place. On the other hand, a school that experiences a decrease in decile rating has had to get by on a little less than that they will have when their situation is accurately reflected in the rating.

The decile ratings were introduced for noble reasons. But have they fulfilled these? Probably not.

We still struggle with student achievement levels that only creep upward and certainly the gaps that still exist between schools, suggests that the decile tool has had little impact. No wonder, when 90% of the funding to schools is delivered with blatant disregard for decile ratings. If there is an issue with decile funding it is that it is too small a proportion of the education spend.

The answer would be to attach funding levels not to schools neatly lined up in ten groups, but to individual students. It would not be difficult to attach a dollar value to the provision that needs to be made for each and every student and the complexity of doing so would be lessened by the ability to engage technology to achieve it.

This would be a powerful lever to lift the schools that have to face up to the hard yards of underachieving students, that have high levels of transient student swirl, that have widespread language issues and so on. The provision of adequate services and assistance boils down to having the funding to provide it.

If the task of having an individual education plan for each student is too large a task, then have some lines below which all students have a plan. Start with next year’s intake at Year 1 and build up the development over the following years. At that point, decile ratings might be a thing of the past.

The media make an automatic link between decile ratings and white flight that has reached seriously troubling proportions. Aucklanders dream each day during the school terms of the bliss of less cluttered roads that will arrive when the school holidays are on. It is marked to such an extent that seriously tolling roads at higher levels during the school delivery / drop-off / retrieve periods of the day might have to be considered. And what are they fleeing from? The very same communities in which they live? Their neighbours? It is all symptomatic of a social issue that is not talked about.