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Tag: funding

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.


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Two out of three just isn’t good enough!


Universal, secular and free were the concepts that underpinned the establishment of the New Zealand education system in the 1877 Education Act. It was considered to be forward looking in world terms at that time.

The same sentiment was captured in the Beeby / Fraser statement in 1939 which tried to restate the 1877 commitment in a system that was growing quickly and admitting to a greater diversity.

“The Government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their ability, rich or poor, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers. So far is this from being a mere pious platitude that the full acceptance of the principle will involve the reorientation of the education system.”

This greater diversity spawned the Thomas Report (1942) which fiddled with the secondary curriculum with regard to School Certificate and later The Currie Commission of 1962, undoubtedly at that time, the most comprehensive review of education since 1877, reinforced the qualities of inclusiveness. Since then a succession of governments have interpreted through policy their own particular bent on what it all meant.

Universal? Well if you put to one side the students who are denied early childhood education and those who drop out of the school system, the system can lay some claim to being universal. So we will give that a pass mark.

Secular? By and large you could say that our schools are secular. Except for the state integrated schools that have permission to be non-secular and a range of schools with special character that reflect different sets of beliefs. It is unclear in the 1877 Act whether ‘secular’ meant ‘free from all religious observance’ or simply ‘non-sectarian’ but that might simply be a construction put on the Act to allow for the use of prayer and the singing of hymns that characterized school assemblies when I went to school. But certainly the system could be said to be secular in as much as the bog-standard school (not private, not state integrated, and not special character) is considered to be not based around or promoting religious practices.

Free? Well this one is the joke. Of course education is not free! Huge amounts of government funding in early childhood education ends up in the hands of business who charge huge amounts to parents for early childhood education. Yes, some get it for free but a large number do not. And the 20 Free Hours give parents some relief in accessing  ECE services but often as a supplement to the other 20 hours that they pay in order to work a 40 hour week.

The school system? Free? Now this issue has really surpassed itself in its annual outing which came later this year then previously. It has become apparent that the differences between compulsory fees (never, of course, called that) in high decile schools runs hugely above that able to be sought as community contributions in low decile schools. Not only that, the attempt of some high decile principals to describe the demands made of parents of primary students as “compensating for the advantageous funding that low decile schools get” should be treated as the joke that it is. Or perhaps it is simply delusion.

Of course, they righteously claim on the one hand that such fees are for activities and not tuition and on the other speak about the importance of a wide curriculum that involves the very same activities. The funding advantage of high decile schools over low decile schools is a very serious attack on the principles of equity and in these practices lie some explanations for the continued stubbornness of some of the statistics of disengagement and student achievement.

If it is appropriate for communities to fund education through direct contributions (school fees / contributions etc) as well as through indirect contribution (income tax) then some level of equitable funding across all schools should be achieved even if it calls for a lowering of the level of funding for high decile schools.

We spend as a country quite enough on education. The issue is not the quantum of funding but rather the use to which it is put.

And have we achieved an education system that is “free”? Not on your life and that is without mentioning post-secondary education – I shall take that up on Thursday!


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Ploughing the fields on a weekend


Weekend newspapers are meant to be a relaxing read but this weekend has raised some education issues that exercise us quite a bit. The Herald on Sunday made a bit of a meal of school funding while the Sunday Star Times had a few stern words for some.

The Herald started an editorial on school funding with the strange statement that:

“Up to half of the funding available to New Zealand’s 2500 school principals is allocated according to the 2006 Census…”  This is of course highly misleading as it suggests that somehow the decile rating of a school has an impact on half of the funding going to schools. The reality is that very little money goes to schools on the basis of its decile rating.

There seems to me to have been very little movement in the obvious rates paid for the Targeted Funding for Educational Achievement, the Special Education Grant and the Career Information Grant over the past decade. Perhaps someone can tell me where the “up to half” chatter comes from. It might well be embedded in the folklore of some in education but the hard cold reality is that perhaps at most a couple of percent is decile related.

And whatever is targeted for low decile schools in no way compensates for the disadvantaged faced by them in contrast to their rich high decile colleagues’ capacity to access cash from the community.

Another funny bit of thinking in the editorial is a paragraph that hides an implicit belief that low decile schools are “struggling” and “straggling” and that they need to “catch up” to high decile schools. This might not be seen to be the case if a “value added” approach is taken to funding. The schools that add the most value would receive more favourable funding. This could well be the low decile schools which start from a very different place and bring children through to a point where they can continue the education journey with some confidence. Compare that to a school full of Decile 10 students who arrive at the school as Decile 10 students. It would be much harder to show the value added in such cases.

Of course we would join the Herald in not wanting a repeat of the well-intentioned but misguided No Child Left Behind campaign initiated by George W. Bush in the US.

The editorial finished on a plea that we do not “drop needs-based funding.” Gandhi was once asked what he thought of British civilisation and he replied that he thought it would be a good idea! What do I think of needs-based funding? I think it would be a good idea.

The decile rating scheme was well-intentioned, hasn’t worked and it is time now for it to go.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

The Sunday Star Times appropriates a Lyndon B. Johnson quote about J. Edgar Hoover in its headline that “Teacher unions need to get inside the tent.” This is a comment not only about where they should be, inside the discussion rather than standing aside but also about what they are doing. I have known no Minister of Education that has worked harder to be inclusive of the teacher unions than Hon Hekia Parata and I can understand why the Sunday Star Times side-bars a comment that “It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Hekia Parata.” But this is not a Minister that looks for sympathy rather it is a Minister that looks for results, raw clear achievement for students.

The Sunday Star Times editorial characterises the unions as being inclined to adopt a default position of opposition. It notes that the Principals Federation is looking set to oppose the lead principals proposals put forward by the Prime Minister. One hopes that the Acting President is misquoted in saying that there is “no evidence” it will work and that the newspaper is being mischievous in noting her issue with the term “Executive Principal” because it “reeks of the word “boss”. Dear me.

But the editorial hits a big nail right on the head when it notes that all this opposition might have some point to it as there are hesitations about some of the proposals but that “it is a better idea than anything the teachers themselves have come up with”.  I have long said that if national standards are not the way to move forward then come up with something better. If the re-organisation of schooling is wrong then simply weeping and asserting the right not to change is no argument at all.

It is not hard to agree with the editorial’s conclusion that this lack of participation in change can only be the result of a clear attachment to the status quo. I for one do not accept that this is so – teachers in schools are being done a great disservice by those who speak on their behaviour and would claim to lead.

The voice of the student might well be saying…

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!


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When editorial licence become rant


Every now and then the NZ Herald[1] simply gets it wrong and they waste a lot of their ammunition in blasting away this morning at Charter Schools (known in New Zealand as Partnership Schools and in other places variously as Academy Schools, Free Schools and so on).

Take for instance the confident assertion early into their piece – “State schools would not use their state funding for commercial advertising…” Not much they wouldn’t! For some schools image is everything and the costs of this come out of their funding. The Herald might be employing a cute logic that says that funding sourced from elsewhere is not “state funding” but that argument is spurious. Decisions about spending are simply decisions about what is important and all money is capable of being used differently. But spending to promote itself is well established in the education system.

Then there is the fuss about the “establishment grant”. When a new school is developed in the state system the establishment grant is simply huge – principals are appointed up to two years previous to the opening of the school and their senior team a year before. Much money goes into the establishment board and so on.

Then there is the matter of charter schools requesting that students be able to access some subjects at state schools. One of the excellent developments over the past decade has been some increased fluidity in students accessing programmes in a more flexible manner. Some of this is across the secondary / tertiary line but some of it is also between secondary schools. It is a very good use of resources.

The Herald acknowledges that size matters in these arrangements and that issues of subject availability challenge small schools, state or charter. And it is not a question of inflexibility that suggests this course of action to charter schools – quite the reverse. Because they can act more flexibly (both with regard to use of time and use of money) they can present options to students that are tailored to individuals just as some state secondary schools seek to achieve but with some frustration in an inflexible funding system.

Then there is the claim that the funding levels of the charter school is almost three times that of a state school on a per student basis. I would be very surprised if it was and suggest that Chris Hipkins is comparing two very different figures. The true comparison should be taken with all variables being equalized – establishment costs and all. It is again silly beyond words to dismiss the establishment costs simply because the schools weren’t needed.

This is followed by a suggestion that the partnership school development simply adds “needless capacity”. This might be true if only student numbers are taken into account but is grossly inaccurate if student achievement is taken account of. The partnership school development is aimed at adding to the capacity of our system to bring more success to more students and to turn around some of the disappointing performance of various groups. This is far from “needless” – it is essential.

Finally there emerges in the Herald piece the standard hysteria about public-private partnerships. They have served education well – integrated schools are public-private partnerships and New Zealand has managed these with success for 40 years. And the snide reference to the “clipper of the ticket” is getting into tricky territory.

Who is clipping the ticket in an education system that serves many students well but fails to serve too many others? Who is clipping the ticket when state schools demand money from parents to have their children in a school fully funded by the state? Who is clipping the ticket when the funding made available to a student to be in school fails to result in a positive outcome?


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Money makes the world go round, is education making it go flat?

(with acknowledgement to George Bernard Shaw who had an opinion about us)

I work with a colleague who is fond of saying that “when money walks through the door, love flies out the window.”  So too, it seems do a few other things such as professional principles, concern for equity, decent behavior and a sense of modesty.

Well that is what it looks like with the various issues that money raises in education at the moment.

First there is the one related to school fees, compulsory donations, call them what you will. Such requests (and let’s be clear, in many cases these are demands) range from a modest $30 per family up to sums in excess of $1,000 per student. Private schools can and do charge whatever they like so that is not an issue. But state schools cannot. These requests are not allowed and this is confirmed year after year when the full flush of summer brings this issue to the attention of the community. Every year it is the same old story.

But this year there has been a new twist. One school hands out a badge that in essence identify a student as coming from a compliant home which has paid the fees demand. Another has isolated students until the “matter” is resolved. These are the instances that make it into the media. I would imagine that there is a further range of pressures applied that are less draconian and more gentle.

Will next year see the debt collectors actively engaged in following up the defaulters?

This issue needs tidying up. As for the bleating from high decile schools that they are struggling for funds – my estimation that equalizing the funding coming into secondary schools for size and factoring decile ratings and all that goes with that, high decile schools are at least 20% ahead of low decile schools in terms of actual funding. A school of 2,000 students charging $1,000 is collecting $2.0 million – to suggest that this compensates for the funding going to low decile schools but not to them is simply laughable.

Secondly there is the matter of partnership schools (charter schools some insist on calling them) and the employment of teachers. It is reported that a partnership school has recruited teachers from a high decile school and is paying them more. Teachers are paid more to shift schools all the time – it is called promotion. The practice of attaching MUs to certain positions in order to be more effective in attracting applicants is a standard practice.

The money mentioned is that up to five teachers were recruited and paid up to $16K more. Let’s assume that the five teachers were all paid that amount extra – that is a total of $80k spread among the five. That could be done in any school if they had the capability of managing their own destiny with regard to the deployment of teachers. Appointing five teachers and using the funding available for six would achieve this result.

Perhaps many teachers would be prepared to negotiate a contract that allowed this to happen.

And this brings us to a third money issue. Despite the notions of “self-managing schools”, now entering its fourth decade as an organizing principle for education in New Zealand, schools actually have very little capacity to manage themselves. Funding continues to be delivered in pre-spent bundles of cash attached to categories of expenditure which are predominantly fixed in a formulaic manner.

This is not much different from my dear Mum who would take the monthly pay that my father brought home and assign it to a series of tobacco tins each labeled with a category of expenditure – power, the milkman, school uniforms, food, etc. Despite the rhetoric, schools have about as much flexibility as my Mum had, including knowing at the end of the month just how much “cash” she had for other things.

This lack of flexibility on school funding acts as a brake on schools being comfortable in encouraging students who would be best to pursue a pathway other than in a school (such as the many pathways that are opening up now for students to do this). This is because there is some weight in the argument that as a student marches off to find success elsewhere, they see a little bundle of resources marching off with them, resources that have probably already been committed.

A self-managing school needs greater ability to manage money rather than simply do with it what they are told they can do.

Money is a real issue in education. It is time that issues such as the delivery of resources to schools were examined. And it is certainly about time that the demeaning issues of school fees in state schools was dealt to decisively.

New Zealand spends about as much money on education as do the very successful (in both achievement and equity) systems. Let’s now set off to get a similar bang for our buck.



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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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Talk-ED: Free education! From what?


The New Zealand education system was established in the Education Act of 1877 as one which would be universal, secular and free.

Well the first of these, “universal”, is more honoured in the breech than the observance if you consider educational outcomes.

The middle characteristic, “secular” is disputed from time to time and the cycle is hotting up again on this one. The intent of the Act was I believe that schools were to be non-sectarian, non-denominational. If that is true then it has mostly been achieved as integrated, private and special character schools that cater for those who want a specific set of views, values and practices promoted within their school.

But the last commitment, that schools would be “free” is a real mess. Once again we see reports that the community contributed $98 million to New Zealand state schools  last year through “donations” which is a euphemism for “fees” and “compulsory charges”. These fees are levied on parents who have little choice in the matter. On occasion the fees have to be up front to secure an enrolment.

All this is, is a contributor to the iniquitous provision of resources to schools.

Higher decile schools get away with charging quite high fees while towards the lower end of the decile slope the schools have to consider whether it is worthwhile even asking communities for this extra money when those communities are under such pressure to pay for the daily necessities of life.

Up against this is a report that a young lady has been denied a ticket to the School Ball because the family are in the defaulters list for the donation. This puts an interesting spin on both the word “donation” and on the explanations that the school wraps around its actions. With 2,600 students and a reported fee of $175, they have a potential donation pool of $455,000 so it is a kitty worth protecting. And they would not be any means have the highest fee/donation.

It probably doesn’t stop there. In most schools students pay for being in a sports team, the costs of curriculum related field trips, items of equipment. Others demand that students have a “device” such as an iPad. Schools clip the ticket on supplying uniforms and stationery that are probably in the interests of the schools rather than the parents.

Higher decile schools have the opportunity to attract international students while lower decile schools do not. The reasons for this are various and some of them are not very pretty. But a school attracting 50 international students could be making anything from $0.5 million (this would really be conservative) to sums in excess of $1 million. They do this using state provided resources such as rooms, staffing  (for these students generate most of their teaching costs at the margins), principal salaries (since overseas trips to “visit markets” are an important part of activity it seems) and so on.

Again it is an income stream that is not equitably available.

I have not the slightest issue with any of this – parents have a right to spend their money however they wish and supporting their students in this way is nothing but commendable.

But it does stick in my craw when I hear the argument that low decile schools have privileged funding. Such claims can only be made by those who either do not understand the realities of a low decile school and its high demand students or those who have a very narrow view of the education economy.

Education is “funded” by the community. They fund it indirectly through taxes, a portion of which is passed on to schools, and indirectly though taking up the costs of education incurred by their children which includes the payments made by way of fees (that are all but in name compulsory) and the myriad of other costs that must be met by students if they are to have the full range of opportunities offered by the schools.

The real funding of schools is the total amount of money available to schools to spend. And here an issue lies. About 84% of state funding delivered to schools is fixed-funding delivered in little packets with its use clearly labelled on the front. This is not much different from the way my mother would budget using an array of tobacco tins, each labelled, into which she divided up the monthly pay packet faithfully handed over unopened by my father on pay day.

So a school relying on state funding only has in reality very little money that the Board or the Principal have discretion over. Imagine then the delight when those extra sources of funding open up.

If high deciles schools complain about the level of state funding for their school I would invite them to try running a low decile school with high maintenance students.

As Fred Dagg would have said – “You don’t know how lucky you are!”

As for the unhappy girl that can’t go to the ball? You aren’t the first victim of the school ball phenomenon but that is a grisly story that can only be told late in the evening.



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Talk-ED: Ratio rationale

Stuart Middleton
28 May 2012


I need help. Being a bear with a small brain, I have been struggling to understand some of the statements on television from school leaders about the impact of the changes to the student teacher ratio announced recently.

Last Friday evening for example we were told of a school, a primary school that would lose 5-6 teachers. Surely not I thought – this would be outrageous.

So what I did was a simple exercise in mathematics – I listed on a sheet of paper the 1 July roll return figures for 2011 for years 1- 15. Then I applied the old ratios and calculated the number of FTEs (full time equivalent positions) those figures would generate. For comparison I also calculated what the new ratios would generate.

On the basis simply of the number of FTE teaching positions generated, the change in ratios is neutral – in fact there is a gain of 11 FTEs across the entire school sector. But this is negligible given that the number of FTEs 33,170. A small shift in balance sees the secondary sector gain by about 240 FTEs at the expense of primary which loses about the same amount.

So the impacts that are being described to us must be in the calculations of all the additional positions generated by allowances – management, resource teachers, guidance, therapists and so on. These appear to account for a further 13,000 FTEs and I would imagine that the complexity of those calculations creates a somewhat tangled web of different approaches to allocating specific resources.

Has the change in ratios somehow produced a call for a leaner cadre of management in schools?

A reduction in the number of resource teachers feature strongly in the complaints from Principals and there are (or were) nearly 1,000 of these?

I was told the other day that intermediate schools were particularly hit by the changes in a negative way? On the surface the changes in ratios look favourable to them.

I do not doubt for one minute that the perceived impact of the changes on schools is real. School leaders would not go on television and say the things they have been saying if they were not. But if the actual changes to the ratios is neutral in terms of FTE teaching positions, then what is generating that impact?

Is there a discrepancy between the roll figures used to calculate staffing allowances and actual rolls? There shouldn’t be as school rolls have been very stable nationally for the past five years and have actually increased by a little over 4% in the past 10 years. Although national figures inevitably mask a decline in numbers in some areas and growth in others.

Is it that additional staffing outside the FTE calculations has been accumulating in schools where there has been a shift downwards in student numbers? A similar thing happened in the 1980s leading up to the changes in 1989 called Tomorrow’s Schools which saw some spectacular losses in staffing to some schools as new formulae bit in. Schools that had, over a period of time, “done well” in attracting additional staffing paid a heavy price.

Could it be that having staffing delivered in FTEs is limiting? Given the age profile of the teaching service it might, at the moment, be to the advantage of schools to have the salary funding delivered to it in some form of cashed up model?

Education does not have a good track record in embracing change and it would be a shame if the reactions to this change which does appear to simplify the whole business a little, is being challenged simply on the basis that it is change – we don’t like change.

So it is important for the real issues to be brought out in ways that people can understand. The dramatic and breathless condemnation of the changes as the end of learning in our lifetimes won’t cut it. Nor will spurious attempts to alarm parents that there will be extraordinary numbers of students in classrooms, there should not be. Nor will the community be impressed by silly calculations of the time available to teachers for interaction with each student as if that has ever been reflected in how excellent teachers work – “two minutes of talking with the teacher starting now”.

Teaching is predominantly a group activity and that is highlighted by the weight of evidence that the quality of the teacher rather than the precise size of the group is the key factor in the quality of learning.

Communities seek to support their schools and I think that they deserve better than the reactions to the changes in ratios that they have got. What are the real issues?

That’s why I need help. Explanations for the reactions do not seem to come out of a clinical examination of the numbers behind the changes.

I read this morning’s NZ Herald and a little more light is shed on the issue of Years 7 and 8 – it does seem that the additional staffing rather than the ratio is the issue – or does the ratio drive the additional staffing?  Check out the article at:


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Pathways-ED: Oh dear me! It's the OECD! And we should be taking notice.

Stuart Middleton
16 February 2012


The importance of educational success to economic growth is now well and truly accepted across many discipline. It was interesting therefore to have my attention drawn last week to a report from the OECD that argues increased investment in “disadvantaged schools and students to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance.”

The proportion of 25-34 years-old who have not completed upper secondary school now averages 20%. New Zealand is listed at 21% but look at the countries that are lower than us: Greece, Italy, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Turkey. Do these names ring a bell in recent media coverage about weak economies, threats of depression and civil unrest? WE are running a risk of joining a club the membership of which a greatly not to be sought in economic terms.

The basic argument of the report is simple. The disengaged, the drop-outs, “are most often from poor or immigrant families, or have poorly educated parents. They are also more likely to attend schools with fewer resources, and their parents cannot generally afford private tutoring.” Are the bells still ringing?

The OECD Report suggests five strategies for tackling the issue.

1          Eliminate the repetition of material studies, levels repeated, having a second shot in order to improve results

New Zealand doesn’t do much of this which is estimated to consume as much as 10% of the annual spending on schooling in some countries. Rather, we push students on to the next level regardless and create considerable accumulated failure as a result. We run a lock-step system. If we were able to work genuinely towards individual pathway plans (call them what you will) we could reach higher levels of effectiveness. A start would be clear unequivocal statements about expectation for learning at crucial points

2          Avoid early tracking or streaming where lower tracks  are generally an educational death warrant.

In the general education system we have pretty well done away with tracking (or streaming as we know it) but in order to throw it out, we indiscriminately also threw out the capacity to provide genuinely differentiated programme in the senior secondary school for which we have paid a heavy price and about which I have written on many occasions.

3          Manage school choice to avoid segregation

It is a clear international trend to improve parental choice. But in doing so it is difficult to avoid segregation between school type or characteristics. Just as our worst areas of housing in New Zealand are the direct outcome of planning decisions – those suburbs were generally planned and built quite deliberately. Now we wonder how to transform them.

So too with schools and this is exacerbated by the convenience of the decile labelling system. The report concludes that there needs to be positive discrimination in favour of disadvantaged schools and financial incentives for advantaged schools to take their share of the high maintenance students from disadvantaged communities.

4          Allocate funding according to student needs and invest in early age.

No argument here. But how? Well obviously the decile rating system gives us a crude tool to know where disadvantaged students are clustered. If we are serious, we would be directing greatly increased funding in that direction but, here’s the rub, not simply to continue to do what we have always done! And managing the accountability/autonomy equation more effectively would also help.

Perhaps the proportions spent on sectors need addressing. The OECD average spend on see 2.5 times more spent on tertiary education than on the early childhood education system.  (In New Zealand that difference is a whacking 3.8 times in favour of tertiary. We are probably getting the results we can expect from the investments we are making.

5          “Encourage students to complete by improving the quality of secondary-level vocational training courses including work-based training, and making the different secondary pathways equivalent.”

This is heartening since New Zealand is starting to recognise just these actions as critical to turning around the issues of disengagement and dropping out. Youth Guarantee, Trades Academies, Service Academies, Vocational Pathways, Secondary / Tertiary Programmes, Gateway and STAR are all policies and actions that have the potential to impact on those issues. We also have through NCEA the potential to give equivalence between pathways even though there is a possibility of this being put at risk by changes made to NCEA and the promotion of alternative examinations. Strong government leadership is required in this area.

So if New Zealand aspires to climb up from 26th (out of 34 countries) in the OECD disengagement/drop-out stakes it might pay to give attention to reports such as this. I shudder to think of where we would be if we were not a bipolar system that has an extraordinary high level of performance for enough students to balance against the high level of underachievement.

Is there a tipping point in all this? And how far ahead might it be?


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EDTalkNZ: Glancing at OECD Statistics


Dave Guerin, CEO/Education Strategist for Education Directions, is today’s guest writer.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance publication kicks off a global rush each year to find the statistics that best prove your previous beliefs. Last week’s release was no exception.

In a perfect educational world, we would all have a deep understanding of our own and other educational systems. In reality, even those who are sector leaders or journalists are often too busy (or can’t be bothered) to go beyond the surface of things. So when a shiny set of comparative statistics comes out, it is far too easy to cherry-pick a few to make your case about how the world should be.

In New Zealand, the story about the OECD figures was that our public tertiary education fees were the seventh highest in the world. That does seem to be true but if you go to the relevant section of the 2011 Education at a Glance, you will find that:

  • only 23 countries were listed in the chart on p.258, so we’re 7/23;
  • the note to the chart says “This chart does not take into account grants, subsidies or loans that partially or fully offset the student’s tuition fees.”;
  • another chart on p.256 shows that New Zealand is fourth highest in the world (4/18) for the proportion of students benefitting from public loans, scholarships or grants;
  • a chart on p.269 shows that we spend the highest proportion of tertiary education spending of any of the nations listed on student loans (1/19);  and
  • text on p.257 states that NZ has one of the highest rates of access in the world.

My reading of all that is that we have high fees, but these are offset by near universal access to student loans, which are in turn subsidised greatly to reduce their real cost, meaning that access to tertiary education remains very open. In short, the real price of New Zealand tertiary education is low enough to let lots of people study.

My research might seem like a lot of trouble, but it only took 20 minutes on a rainy afternoon to write this whole piece. Of course, if you can’t be bothered with that, you could take the approach of Universities UK. In a two paragraph media release, UUK didn’t even bother citing a statistic – they just inserted the OECD’s name into their narrative about the need of higher spending.

Dave Guerin

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