Groans and Moans about the Zones

The system of “enrolment schemes” is rather more scheming than simply enrolments! More commonly known as “school zones” which serve as the golden key to the coveted entrance for out-of-zone students. They carry the power of Grand Arbiter to a Better School in the minds to parents and caregivers who dismiss the local school as “not up to scratch” (this does not require any evidence) and applications usually paint a picture of “you would be lucky to have XYZ here” which is much the same as what the school is thinking.

As a Justice of the Peace I assist the gathering of evidence required by schools that stops short only at a blood test. Breaking the school zone barrier is certainly not a high trust exercise as a fistful of certified papers and evidence is amassed to get the required result. About 20% of New Zealand’s school-aged citizens have gone and will go, through this process successfully.

There are consequences to all this. In Auckland it is marked most annoyingly by the increase in vehicles (often humping great SUVs, but sometimes a bus) from the fleet that carts students to the schools of choice (well their parents choice to be honest and quite a number in addition to the zone-hoppers are seriously pursuing a faith choice). All Auckland knows when the school holidays are on simply by the quieter roads between 8.15 am and 9.30 am.

A review has been suggested. But if this simply concerns the mechanics of the process and suggests a role for central authorities and perhaps more automated clerical procedures, an opportunity will have been lost to consider the extent to which school zones serve the students and the country to best advantage. Is it time we took a serious look at the Scandinavian education systems?

Now granted, New Zealand is not Scandanavia which has on the whole rather less demarcated social differences than New Zealand. But Pasi Sahlberg, known to New Zealand, has constantly argued that Finland does so well because of a single factor and that is equality. Each classroom will have a balance of students from across social backgrounds. This is a constant theme in research on effectiveness of school systems.

There are other lessons to be learnt from Finland: teachers are more central in the schools, teachers and teaching are highly valued, they are a bit more traditional than NZ teachers. But there are no national tests. But, and this might be the key, no child is left behind – students underperforming have access to resources and especially to increased teacher time.

Has New Zealand dropped the ball on the development of a society characterised by equity and access? Perhaps the haves and have-not social clusters become embedded and while governments talk about addressing rich and poor it is really only talk and not action. I suggest that we have given up, it is just too hard it seems.

So how will fiddling around with school zoning make differences that matter? New Zealand has for a long time had a bi-polar schooling system that at the top of school success is as good as anywhere in the world, but at other end and with different students, is as bad as it gets. Our education statistics stubbornly refuse to show improvement and numbers of students deserting the system continue to grow.

We need a serious consideration of equity in and access to quality schooling and to pathways for success in life as social beings and contributors which reflects the rich and diverse society that could be New Zealand but is too often hidden by ways of proceeding that have failed.

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