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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in equity

Posted by on in School funding

(Posted on behalf) Thoughts from a reader of the Ministry's Education Funding System Review

The issues of global funding and equity funding have been well canvassed publicly, but there are other background papers which contain some disturbing commentary from the Ministry.  Everyone with an interest in secondary schools should read the background papers to see how the Ministry views them.

Below are some snippets (and comments on those) from four of those papers.

Property Background paper

In explaining why the Ministry does not promote centralising funding for property they argue that it:

“Changes incentives at school-level (e.g. won’t accept substandard conditions that they may have under the status quo)” Page 9

“Requires total property maintenance funding Ministry receives to be adequate to cover maintenance outcomes sought – significant risk of cost escalation for Crown” P9

The implications are of major underfunding of property and the substandard conditions that students and teachers are required to put up with every day because of a deliberate choice to  underfund state schools by the government.

Isolation funding Background paper

The Ministry refers to supplementary isolation funding – but they are also saying that fewer, only the most isolated, schools would get isolation funding.  This would supplement the school’s general per student funding if the school is isolated, but their intention is that most schools currently receiving isolation funding would no longer have it.

Funding to support small schools Background paper

The Ministry is referring to small schools as those wb2ap3_thumbnail_closedschool.pnghich are 200 or fewer students.

1.    Base staffing and base funding
“Overall, it would appear that secondary and composite schools are relatively generously treated as compared to primary schools across all roll sizes” (p5)
“… the base level of staffing provided … appears relatively generous compared to primary schools.” (p8)

And an issue for the ministry with respect to composite schools is “the appropriateness of the level of support provided through Base Curriculum Staffing and Additional Guidance Staffing where the secondary roll is very small.” (p8)

Their analysis is that there are “opportunities to reduce the level of funding that is provided through base funding arrangements.” (p8)

The suggestion is that primary and secondary schools should be treated similarly in terms of base staffing (and that means at the lowest denominator).

The clear implication of the Ministry’s thinking is the reduction of staffing and base funding in small secondary and composition schools.

The problem here is that the Ministry does not appear to understand that base staffing in secondary schools supports a minimum option width for secondary students whereas base staffing in primary schools supports a manageable average class size, and that the costs of specialist education classes are higher, especially at senior level than are the costs of generalist  classes.

The base resourcing differences are not arbitrary – they represent real differences in costs of small specialist and generalist institutions.

Per student funding Background paper

The intention is to flatten out year level funding. The Ministry indicates that Victoria (Aus) is the model they would like to align with. The Victorian model transferred $65M from secondary schools. The equivalent model here would result in the loss of resourcing from secondary schools equivalent to an average of six FTTE teachers worth of resourcing per secondary school.

Again, the Ministry demonstrates no understanding of why the education costs of senior students are higher than those of junior students.

General comment
Implementing the Ministry’s proposals would collectively strip resourcing from secondary schools, but most particularly from small and remote schools.



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This week’s OECD report on low performing students in the 2012 PISA tests demonstrated again the significant impact that out of school factors, such as demographics and socio-economic status (SES) have on student achievement.  So far, so sadly predictable.

What it also gave was some pointers towards what to do about it. In New Zealand, as the headlines said, being from the lowest SES quarter of the population means you’re six times more likely to be in the low performing group. In some countries the rate is far lower – in fact in the Netherlands, the difference is so low it’s not statistically significant.

 The final section of the report gives policy advice, based on what the countries that are doing well and improving have done. This comes with the usual caveats, which generally disappear when a politician has a microphone in their face, i.e. there’s no silver bullet, countries are different from each other, and every country, at all times, has had an achievement gap of some kind.

Bearing those sobering points in mind, the Netherlands is still an interesting case. One of the strategies that is used there, highlighted in the report, is “….allocating additional resources to schools based on the number or proportion of disadvantaged students enrolled…“ and that this “…can be an effective and equitable way of supporting low performers.”

To some extent we do this already in New Zealand, through the much discussed decile system.  There’s a lot of misunderstanding of decile, mostly by people who seem to think it has some sort of relationship with the quality of the school. But what’s often lost is just how small the decile related components of school funding are.

Decile related funding ranges from 9.5% of total funding (operations, staffing and locally raised) in decile 1 schools, which are the 10% with the highest proportion of students from low SES communities to 0.5% of funding at decile 10. And just to be clear what this means, the purpose of this funding is “..to help … overcome any barriers to learning that students from lower socio-economic communities might face”, so we (i.e. governments the public has voted in over the last 20 to 30 years) think that less than 10% above base funding is enough to overcome these barriers.

The contrast with the Netherlands is stark. There, the nearly 15% of schools that serve the highest proportion of disadvantaged students receive 80-90% extra funding, as this 2010 paper describes. In practice what this means is that the schools which serve the most disadvantaged students have much lower teacher : student ratios (around 60% more teachers ) and many more support staff, along with other advantages.

Of course, there are a lot of factors which have to be interrogated closely about the comparison, and I’m certainly not advocating picking up the Dutch system wholesale – for one thing, in the Netherlands one of the main identifiers for educational and social disadvantage is being a recent immigrant, where in New Zealand new immigrants tend to perform well in school. But it seems as if this concept is one which we would be crazy not to be looking at closely.  There’s a review of school funding happening at the moment, and I sincerely hope that this type of information is being taken seriously.

So perhaps successive New Zealand governments are right that less than 10% extra funding is perfectly adequate to overcome the barriers to learning that the poorest students in New Zealand face, and perhaps there are quite different things going on which lead to the persistent achievement gap that so closely correlates with socio-economic status. On the other hand, this evidence from the Netherlands, and increasingly also from the USA where the impact of court-ordered school funding reforms has been tracked now for several decades, does seem to indicate that significant extra resourcing to schools which serve our poorest children makes a real difference.

Of course, there are lots of questions that have to be answered about this, like how disadvantage is identified and measured, what are the appropriate ratios or weightings, and what are the right mechanisms to deliver the extra funding. But we’re keen to try and find answers for these questions, and we’ll work with anyone else who wants to do this crucial work too. 

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As New Zealand edges towards shortages of secondary teachers in some regions and subject areas, it's worth considering what the impact of this will be on students. 

Experience in schools tells us that students don't do as well when they don't have people skilled in their subject area teaching them. And in the voluminous PISA 2012 reports there's real evidence of this, and evidence that it was happening in some areas of NZ even then, when recruitment issues were less than they are now.  

Worst of all, the impact of shortages of specialist teachers is felt heaviest on the students who need the most support and are most at risk of not achieving. 


This report is primarily about maths achievement, one of the areas that principals are increasingly reporting they are having trouble recruiting suitable teachers. 

Now correlation is not causation, and this report doesn't  claim that the difficulty recruiting teachers of maths in low SES schools leads directly to lower achievement. But the fact that at that point in time principals in low SES areas were more likely to report difficulties recruiting in specialist areas should have been cause for concern to the Ministry and Minister. 

A Ministry of Education survey at the start of 2014 showed that 47% of secondary jobs were advertised more than once. This seems to signal a fairly widespread supply problem, and there is no indication that things have improved since. 

How we go with this year's STCA round could have a big impact on this. The relativity of teachers' earnings to other jobs matters for people who have other options. Teachers have not just been falling behind inflation as we all know, but our wage growth has been slower than average increases in the private sector. Earlier this year Bill English said we are looking at average wage growth of 2.9% a year for coming years. 

If this government is happy to let teachers earnings shrink relative to both inflation and other professions, then they should expect to have increasing problems recruiting teachers. As PISA warns, the impact of this on students won't be good, and it will fall disproportionately on the students who need the most support.




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