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Talk-ED: Back into harness


I have been taking some leave over the past three weeks and spending time in Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic. It is great to have been able to spend time in this part of the world that has given to western culture so much that is important – especially music.

But it is also good to be able to step aside from the swirl of New Zealand, small, geographically remote and insular in the ways that islands are. It has been a bit of a surprise to arrive back in the midst of what must surely be the most bizarre sporting event we have seen in a long time and to see the extravagant claims being made for its importance.

Although wireless internet access is everywhere in the countries visited so while access is easy there are many ways in which you do lose touch with some of the issues. This is not a bad thing. But I am aware of several issues that have arisen.

The first is an intention expressed by Minister Hekia Parata to look seriously at the whole business of decile ratings and to consider the usefulness going forward. I have long felt that decile ratings have past their use-by date. Well intentioned, welcomed when introduced, they have quite simply failed to deliver the intended impacts and have instead developed a range of unintended impacts.

I understand that about 4% of school funding is actually related to decile rating and yet the expectation was that by having a multi-factor means of determining the relative load of socio-economic circumstance carried by different schools would enable funding to reflect need more equitably. It hasn’t done this for a couple of reasons. First, there are needs among students with “low decile profiles” who are hidden in middle and higher decile schools that are not met and, secondly, the needs of schools with “low decile” profiles do not increase on a flat line basis but rather exponentially.

The failure of the school decile rating system is in large measure due to the formulaic manner in which funding is delivered to schools. Until schools receive cashed up funding based on the entitlement of individual students which they are then accountable for meeting, the inequities embedded in the current funding model will continue.

But there is a danger. If the changes when they do happen result in a shift of what funding does finds its way into “low decile” schools, the issue will be exacerbated. The recent high levels of accessing NZQA special assistance for students in a high decile independent boys schools is a recent incidence of this. A more historic example was the removal in the 1970s of the additional staffing allowance for Maori students on the basis that schools would be better off. Yes, all schools got a little more but schools with significant numbers of Maori students were relatively worse off.

The second issue was one  I was pleased to be about as far away from it as it is possible to get.

The announcement of the successful parties for the partnership schools produced, it seems, the anticipated range of tired old arguments against the development based on prejudice, ignorance of the situation in other countries and the fear of innovation. But what was notable when catching up on some reading was the much clearer rejection of such opposition to partnerships schools by opinion from outside education. It looks as if the default-oppose-stance that characterises so much reaction to new ideas has been seen through for what it really is – patch protection and continued denial that the current system is not meeting the needs of all young people. The reaction of many seems to be along the lines of “let’s see whether this different way of working will increase success for more students.” This is the fundamental basis on which the development has been promoted.

The item that I had missed – understand that New Zealand does not rate a mention in the media in Eastern Europe, not even rugby or the America’s Cup.

Early in September Minister Stephen Joyce made a thoughtful contribution to the discussion of tertiary education (more on this on Thursday). What leapt out for me was the announcement that Youth Guarantee would be extended to 19 year olds, up one year from the current limit of 18 years. This is the completion of the move to a more equitable situation where students, having reached the age of 16 years that signals the end of compulsory schooling, are able to access the resources that are theirs to continue their education for a further three years. This is an entitlement that students already had provided they remained in a school setting regardless of their panned intentions, levels of success or even interest. In such a situation, worldwide, too many students vote with their feet.

It is exciting to return from a period away and get back into the flow of things.


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