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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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