24 May 2012
In amongst a budget that was pretty flat on excitement, there was some good news for education. Spending will bring some benefits to education some increase in the operating grants and the broadband roll-out will continue. Universities get another slurp into the PBRF research trough and there is a focus on science and engineering for increased EFTS funding.
Of course there is a downside – largely borne by the students who pay back loans a little more steeply, means testing remains and a new targeting of such assistance onto first degrees constitute something of a curate’s egg rather than a golden goose’s egg.
But the big three for me, no surprise here, is the increase in early childhood participation, the increase in the number of youth guarantee places and the NCEA Level 2 target.
To raise the ECE target to 98% from the current 94.7% might seem a modest increase but it is a huge ask in some communities. Access to early childhood education across different communities with different characteristics is discrepant. So if the goal is to be achieved do not expect a little bit for everyone, this will have to be well and truly targeted.
The increase in Youth Guarantee places is throwing good money after good money. The fees free places are providing a valuable opportunity for young people who otherwise might well lose momentum in the school setting, to enter a tertiary programme and, if indications from the first couple of years are a guide, succeed and move into qualifications that will lead them into real jobs.
Then there is the NCEA Target. It is stark in its expression! By 2016 85% of all 18 year olds will achieve NCEA Level 2 (or its equivalent). Now this is apparently not just 85% of those who tackle NCEA Level 2 but all 18 year olds. So the increase mentioned in the budget from 68% to 85% is the overall current result but there are challenges in this target that become more apparent when the total is deconstructed into its ethnic components.
The cohort that entered Year 11 in 2008 has performed as follows by the end of 2010 with regard to achieving NCEA Level 2.
- NZ European 68%
- Asian 74%
- Maori 43%
- Pacific 58%
I actually wonder…
Now remember that probably 20% of 18 year olds have disengaged from school prior to age 16 years. Other students will have dropped out along the way through Year 11 and Year 12. So if this target is to be achieved equitably i.e. all 18 year old Maori, all 18 year old Pasifika etc then we will need to get our skates on. The group who will be the 18 year olds in 2016 are in Year 9 now. Help!
Earlier media attention was paid to the more controversial announcement in the budget that $512 million will be spent on improving teacher quality. We know of course that this is on the basis of savings that result from the squeezing of student / teacher ratio.
Something that intrigues me is a little calculation that I have done tells me that there is some good news for secondary schools in this. Based on national student number profiles (which means that there will be some differences for individual school to take account of their senior school profiles), the equalisation of the ratio across all the levels of the senior secondary school at the level of the current lowest (Year 13) rate will result in a 12% increase in teacher numbers nationally at the senior level.
Was this intended? I was surprised when I did this calculation because the Minister had said that schools would generally be affected by + 1 teachers. Am I wrong? If not then I am excited because increased teachers at the senior level should mean increased flexibility for schools.
If we are to hit that NCEA target in 2016 then that will be crucial.