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Posted by on in School funding

I was listening to the news the other day and the Education Minister said her new approach to resourcing schools was not bulk funding but you guys say that it is. So, when is bulk funding not bulk funding?

When the Minister calls it something else.

But WHY is she calling it something else?

Well, in this month’s semantic challenge, the Honourable Hekia Parata has presented a ‘global budget’ to schools as the ointment for ensuring students ‘most at risk’ get the resourcing they need - without breaking the bank (it’s the same gross amount in the system just spread a little differently).

And she’s saying that it will be “needs based”?

Part of it will be. Instead of the students in different schools getting a decile weighted amount, students will all have a fixed amount (as a voucher) and a targeted few will get some extra (voucher plus). Those schools with a big enough concentration of these needy students may even get as much funding as they do currently.

Hang on. I thought it was a good thing for targeted students to get more?

It could be – if it was sufficient. But in this year’s budget the amount set aside for these sorts of students was around $80 per student for the whole year. And some schools will probably get quite a bit less than they do now under the decile system – basically we don’t know what criteria will be used to identify additional need but it’s likely to be pretty narrow and resourced from part of the savings in removing the decile weighting.

That’s not exactly going to be a panacea is it? I thought the Minister said this would allow schools to be “more flexible”?

I guess you could say there were some new flexibilities. Sadly, the rub is that while the Minister’s plan ring fences money to maintain Ministry owned buildings it does not do the same to ensure that the best teachers are in front of students in small classes with additional support where it’s needed. Instead, those schools will be directed to tighten their belts and enticed to make staffing a movable feast.

So, staffing will be more flexible? Where will the rest of the money to ‘address need’ come from?

In Hekia’s ‘global budget’ salaries are bulk funded. That is, schools will be empowered to cash up staffing to find money for other operational costs. Unfortunately, this will likely mean increased class sizes and more precarious ‘fixed term’ positions, while schools hedge their bets over how much money they need for a new initiative or purchase.

But she tried increasing class sizes with Lesley Longstone! Everyone knows it’s a terrible idea….Won’t schools just keep small classes?

Some might. But when the amount of money they have to go round is insufficient, staffing is really the only movable part in the proposed model (unless you have lots of parent donations or international students. ie you’re currently a large high decile school). Meanwhile, John Hattie can be wheeled out as the silver bullet to real teachers’ knowledge that the more kids in your class the less ‘one on one learning’.

Hekia’s ointment is starting to smell a little sour. What else is wrong with her proposal?

Well, the vouchers for students (or a proportion of them) will apply to private school students too, meaning some of the education budget saved by removing the decile weighting will go into private businesses.

That doesn’t sound fair. Will the same voucher apply to those Charter schools?

Probably not. While they do get a huge amount more per capita than kids in state schools, the funding is probably locked into their contracts (and without offering the tiny class sizes they do their grades might not be able to appear as impressive – the Minister won’t want that to happen).

But, if I’m understanding you right a lot of previously lower decile schools will get less money and may have to increase their class sizes, private schools will get more and charters will still get the most. That can’t be right can it? The Minister said this proposal was more equitable!

It is.

How can that be?

Because she says it is.

Bulk funding works like this

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One of Minister Parata’s proposals in the surprise bulk-funding announcement is to offer private schools more money.  

During Question Time in the House on Tuesday 28th of June, it was confirmed this would likely be a per child amount, perhaps on par with the amount state schools receive.

If this proposal eventuated it would not just be bulk-funding, but a full-blown voucher system.  The political equivalent of National adopting ACT’s education policy.  Good if you send your kids to Dio, St Kents or Kings.  Bad if you are in the 97% of New Zealand families who go with state and state-integrated schools. 

So, do private schools really need all this new money?  I went on the internet to check-out their financial statements.

Many organisations (including PPTA) display their financials publicly on their website, but this does not appear to be the case with private schools.  Lots of photos of students competing in equestrian events and attending luncheons, but accounting is off the menu.  What could they be trying to hide?  Fortunately, some are registered as charities, so the charities register has the statements filed online.

Wow!!!  Check out Auckland Dio – It has not made a profit under $1.8 million since 2008.  In 2011, when they seem to have acquired an injection of students from earthquake-stricken Christchurch, the surplus was $3,574,784.  Top marks for opportunism. 

Rangi Ruru in Christchurch - $1,347,676 in 2013, followed by $1,449,320 in 2014.

More conservative profit margins can be found in Wellington where Marsden and Queen Margaret make six figure surpluses but not seven.

So, put bluntly, I don’t think the time is right to increase class sizes in state schools to provide a funding boost to private schools.  

Interested in your thoughts always.


Raking it in



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Governments have long blown off links between SES and educational outcomes (despite the erstwhile decile system being premised on this concept in 1995). Now, from the heavens, a school resourcing thunderbolt based on… socio-economic factors! (Albeit more ‘targeted’ ones). 

While we in the sector marvel as the sun rises on an approach where additional funding could arrive at schools where it’s needed, Ministers Parata and English temporarily bask in the glow of a funding sleight of hand that seems to have wide support in the tempestuous climes of the education sector.

However, grey clouds lurk.

We are told the MOE have better data to ‘identify need’ but ‘targeted’ funding to schools apparently requires a narrower approach to how ‘need’ is described. 

The list released earlier this year caused a sudden storm. Privacy issues aside, the ‘risk factors’ to guide school resourcing may not target the capacity of many families to support access to learning at school. If parents don’t earn enough to provide what their children require (when their children aren’t victims of trauma or beneficiaries) how will it work? 

Sadly, it probably won’t – in isolation.

In fact, without funding all state schools adequately to ensure local schools can provide enough, the transitory practices of many (usually lower decile) students will continue and the impacts on school funding when decile component is removed and only ‘targeted’ needy get additional funding may be like a lightning strike to (previously low decile) school operating budgets. Further, the additional resourcing for a ‘targeted’ few may actually do little to lessen the tail wind to the exodus of ‘non needy’ students whose parents already shop for higher decile schools – not believing that “decile is no proxy for quality”.

Without ensuring sufficient and stable funding for all state schools as well as investing heavily in those that need targeted support, the internal migration of students across schools may become a tornado wreaking havoc on our public system.

While ‘needs based funding’ sounds like something we should all support, the fog around the ministers’ true intentions needs to clear. Is it a chance to invest in public education as a priority, doing our best to give every student a reasonable start regardless of birth or background? Or is a new resourcing model an ill wind that will simply rearrange the current resourcing and breeze over the social apartheid that is currently occurring under deciles?

In particular, is the statement that funding will be modelled on the “size of the educational challenge” a red sky warning to schools that the isobars of accountability and the apportioning of blame will move closer and closer together – that is, a more punitive rather than aspirational system?

If the government’s intention is that all state schools are adequately funded - with more where it’s needed - the imminent resourcing review could lead to a balmy summer for schools and communities to continue improving; with access to high quality education at local state schools, additional supports for students (and educators) to bolster what is already provided and a schooling system that can be lauded as equitable. 

Unfortunately, it appears that instead of enabling all students to access quality education in their local community, the Minister is happy to rain education dollars into Charter Schools – which does nothing to support stability in state school funding. On the contrary, when operational funding to state schools is already insufficient, the freeze is on for 2016. Correspondingly, Minister Parata has been quoted as wanting to “protect parents’ right to choose” the schools their children attend – which suggests there will be little urgency to ensure true equity across state schools. In fact, if the Minister’s intention is to protect school choice and fund individual students then we are in the eye of the hurricane: parents will chase whatever rainbow they choose and take their pot of gold with them  (to the detriment of the school they have left) as happens now with Charters and quarterly funding- only worse. 

Rolling out more and more Charter schools and indexing funding to Private Schools without guaranteeing that the ‘global funding’ to state schools is sufficient is a bit like addressing global warming by selling carbon credits.

The myth of ‘free schooling’ disappeared like autumn mist over ten years ago. Therein, a small shower is unlikely to relieve the drought faced by communities who can’t rely on massive family contributions and foreign fee paying students. Sadly, English’s long range forecast does not seem to pay much attention to the impacts of increasing house prices and low wages on a family’s ability to stump up with the increasing cost of ‘free’ education in NZ.

Perhaps someone needs to tell him that if it doesn’t guarantee public education is adequately funded, a needs based approach is just hot air.

Until Bill and Hekia (and no doubt Under Secretary Seymour) present an actual model, discussions about their true intentions may be a storm in a tea cup -but when representatives from the education sector approached Minister Parata to be involved in getting a new approach to ‘resourcing need’ right their warm front was met with a cold snap. 

We can only hope that we won’t be left out in the cold for too long. 

Link to the Eagle Weather wheel

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With employees becoming "workers" and employers now "persons conducting a business or undertaking" (PCBUs) I have received a lot of questions about the new Health and Safety at Work Act:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q    Am I now liable for accidents/incidents that happen in my teaching area?

A    No more than you have been since HSE 1992, and only when you have been negligent or failed in a duty of care so no change

Q    Does this mean the end of Education Outside the classroom (EOTC)?

   The intent is not to curtail any EOTC, what it means is that qualifications/experience etc are current for staff who run trips and external providers need to be consulted and have their qualifications etc confirmed. You should have been doing this anyway so no change.

Q    Will we have to close access to school facilities after hours?

A    No, the requirement is for the facilities to be fit for purpose at all times, if the facilities are safe during the day, then public use outside of school hours is fine. Case law has prosecuted boards when facilities have been deficient causing serious harm or death outside of school hours but this should have no effect on staff, it is a  board issue.

Q    What about school pools and access?

A    Provided that the pool is properly fenced and locked when not in authorised use, processes are in place for supervised out of hours use and these processes are signposted then there are no issues.  The school cannot be held responsible if someone scales a fence with a locked gate and harms themselves in unauthorised use of a pool (or any other facility).
There is no liability for anyone on site for illegal purposes.

Q    Am I personally liable for Health and Safety of my outdoor education classes?

   No it is the duty of the board to ensure the safety of all workers and others ( this is where students fall under the new Act) this would include practices and processes for staff to follow that ensure Health and Safety for all in its care, however if the policies and processes are ignored then the liability may fall on the teacher.
This has been the case previously, no change.

Q    Do I need to have risk analysis and managment systems (RAMs) for all experiments that I do every time I do them?

A    No, they should have been verified before they go into the management doc/scheme/planner or whatever you call your existing planning programme. This is best practice and should be currently being done so no change.

Q    Should we let kids climb trees?

   Do you let them already? Yes then no change. It has to be contextual, 50m tall Norfolk Pine probably not, 6m Apple tree probably, just apply common sense.

Q    Will I need to close or limit my hard materials workshop classes?

A    If you have sound teaching practice regarding machinery use then there is nothing to worry about. It may be advisable to update your record keeping of when and how you have approved students to use certain machines. It would pay to have a record of what machines were demonstrated and the safe use of them and when this took place.

Q    Am I now financially liable for incidents?

A    No you are not suddenly now liable. You have been liable since the 1992 Health and safety in Employment Act introduced 3 tiers of fine with a maximum of $500k for death or    serious harm, interestingly nobody batted an eyelid at this figure which is now inflation adjusted to $808k but now the $600k has been announced everyone is up in arms and talking houses in trust etc. Nobody in the Education sector has been prosecuted since the 1992 Act was introduced and unless you are negligent and fail in your duty of care leading to serious harm or death then nobody will be fined this amount in the education sector. This has been the case previously so no change.

Q    What responsibilities as a Teacher do I now have?

A    Teachers must:

Take reasonable care for their health and safety

Take reasonable care that their behaviour does not adversely affect the health and safety of others       

Report any incident, risk or hazard to an officer or health and safety representative   

Comply with any reasonable instruction form the PCBU* (Board) to allow the PCBU to comply with the Act               

Cooperate with the PCBU’s health and safety policies or procedures inform visitors etc of any known hazards or risks in the workplace (*A PCBU is a ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’. )

Q    What is the role of a Health and Safety Rep?

A    A Health and Safety Representative (HSR) performs a number of functions including:

Representing school workers generally on health and safety matters

Investigating complaints from school workers about health and safety issues at the school

Representing a school worker on a specific health and safety matter (including a complaint) if asked to do so by that worker

Monitoring health and safety measures taken by the Board of Trustees and providing feedback to the Board about health and safety compliance

Inquiring into anything that appears to be a health and safety risk to school workers arising from the activities of the school and making recommendations to the Board of Trustees on work health and safety 

Promoting the interests of school workers who have been harmed at work, including arrangements for rehabilitation and return to work

Issuing provisional improvement notices in the school workplace 

Being able to direct workgroup members (school workers the HSR represents) to cease work. 

Q    What is the role of a Health and Safety Committee?

A    A Health and Safety Committee:

Facilitates co-operation between the Board of Trustees and school workers in instigating, developing, and carrying out measures designed to ensure the school workers’ health and safety at work

Assists in developing any standards, rules, policies, or procedures relating to health and safety that are to be followed or complied with at the school 

Makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees about work health and safety.

Q    How many Health and Safety reps (HSRs) may we have?

A    The prescribed minimum ratio of HSRs for a work group is 1 representative for every 19     workers. If the number of workers divided by 19 does not equal a whole number, the number of health and safety representatives to be elected is increased to the next whole number. e.g. 10 workers = 1 HSR,   23 workers = 2 HSRs

Q    How do we get the Health and Safety reps?

   Any 1 worker may request elections for Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs) or the PCBU may decide to call for elections (regulations apply as to how this happens)
Q    How do we get a Health and Safety Committee?

A    Any 5 workers or 1 HSR may call for formation of a Health and Safety Committee (HSC) or the PCBU may decide to appoint one (regulations apply as to how this happens)

Any other questions email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



More information:

STCA Part 12 Health and Safety

ASTCA Part 10 Health and Safety

Better provision for due diligence: Health and Safety at Work Act (page from PPTA News April 2016)

New legislation raises the stakes (Health and Safety Act 2015) (page from PPTA News October 2015)

weblink Health and Safety at Work Act 2015

weblink Ministry of Education health and safety resources

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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In my travels around the regions presenting the Health and Safety seminars I have encountered a wide variety of questions and concerns, most of these are covered in the FAQs on the website however there are a few common issues that have arisen. The MoE have published a superb guide called Health and safety at Work Act 2015 A practical guide for BoTs and school leaders. Every organisation involved in the education sector worked collaboratively in its production. The guide was emailed to all schools and STA undertook to send a hard copy, the problem is that no-one seems to have heard of it let alone seen it. Here is the link

 MoE Guide to Health-and-Safety-at-Work-Act-2015.pdf

It contains a host of tools and information designed to keep you safe and compliant with the law. It provides a series of templates to allow you to self audit at no cost.

Principals in particular seem to have been left out of the loop in terms of the new Act and are making random and often illegal decisions, for example, a Principal making all HoDs do the HSR course in their school holidays. This is not only in contravention of the requirement for HSRs to be elected by the workforce but also contravenes the requirement for the elected HSR to choose their own course at a time that suits them. Another bad case is DPs overriding elected but not yet trained HSRs to take their place on the initial training course. A third common issue is reports of extra or increased paperwork being demanded to cover EOTC trips. The 1992 HSE Act should have covered all of this and no school should not already have robust systems, if they haven’t what have they been doing for the last 14 years? A new EOTC guidelines document has also been sent to schools and here is the link EDU12339_EOTC Guidelines_5.pdf 

Principals have also been telling staff that they are liable for actions that clearly belong to the PCBU such as other workers entering offsite units without communication, coordination and cooperation. The offsite teacher with no knowledge of this cannot then be held liable if something happens on their site.

A lot of misinformation seems to have been promulgated by so called H&S consultants in order to charge a small fortune for unnecessary external audits

Don’t do it!!

they are a waste of BoTs precious ops grant money, money that is hard to come by and better used elsewhere.

NZSTA have run a heap of workshops for BoTs and Principals at which an excellent resource called Effective  governance Health and Safety at Work Act was distributed, unfortunately not too many schools have seen this either, contact NZSTA to get a copy.

The law requires PCBUs (BoTs) to  

1 engage, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for it and are directly    affected, or likely to be directly affected, by a work health and safety matter, and

 2. have practices that allow workers who work for the board to have reasonable opportunities to  participate effectively in improving work health and safety in the school on an on-going basis.      

These are known as worker participation practices.

Failure by the board to meet either of these duties is an offence under HSWA.

I am amazed at the tales I hear where BoTs and Principals clearly have no idea of how to implement the Act and are imposing weird and wonderful systems on workers and urge you to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for clarification or further information regarding your situation.




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Much was said about what the $26 million spent on the flag change debacle could have been better spent on. However, the argument that some worthy cause missed out in order for that money to be spent on the flag is hard to prove.

Not so with the funding of Charter schools.

The budget allocation for 7 new Charter schools (and a support group to help these private interests not make the same disastrous mistakes as happened in Whangaruru) does come from somewhere – it comes out of the education budget.

Meanwhile, Special Education is underfunded.

The Operations Grants to schools are insufficient and have actually decreased this year, while the tap for accessible and relevant professional learning for teachers is about to be turned off (for most) by the Ministry of Education.

Establishing Charters in the same communities as state schools means those schools lose funding, including operational funding and their staffing entitlement which can mean they will struggle to offer curriculum and other critical educational resources to the students left behind.

Despite all this, the clamour of professionals and educators who know where the money could be better spent appear to be being ignored - again.



(Published in Dominion Post Letters to the Editor 25 May 2016)

Larry Cuban site - charter school cartoon

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The main point of interest in the compulsory education sector for the budget this year is the introduction of an element of ‘data driven social investment’ to schools’ operations funding.

Previous budgets have increased schools’ operations funding in line with or just above the consumer price index (CPI), as shown on the table below. School staffing, the other main component of funding, is calculated on a formula which is largely driven by student numbers and collective agreement rates, so changes to that are predictable and demand driven.

The table below shows increases to operations funding over previous budgets.


Operations increase over four years

Per cent rise


$43 million

1% - but targeted


$42.3 million



$85.3 million



$79.2 million



$82.6 million



$118.1 million



$155.7 million



$80.0 million



This year the government has taken a different approach, and while they are putting in the same amount as in last year, it is targeted to students who are identified as being at risk of not achieving at school. This means that some schools, which have a lot of these students, will receive up to 4% increases in their operations funding, and some none, with an average overall of 1%.

The way that this funding is targeted is based on whether a student comes from a home that is largely dependent on a benefit (to be precise, living 75% of their first five years or the most recent five years in a benefit dependent household). The ministry predicts there are 150,000 students at school who fit this category, around 20% of all students.

Each of these students will attract around $80 in funding a year, or $1.54 per week. A school with 20% of its students in this category will receive a 1% increase in its operations funding, 40% will bring 2% and so on. For a sense of scale, the average total government funding per student (across deciles, ages and school sizes, and including staffing and operational funding) is around $7,000 a year.

There are problems with the targeted, social investment approach to operations funding which has replaced the previous practice of universal increases at or just above the rate of inflation.

Some schools will find their operations funding frozen or only increasing minimally this year as a result of this change, which will inevitably lead to extra pressures on parents to fork out. Cost increases for schools are generally well above headline CPI increases, with the Dominion Post using one data set that shows inflation pressures on schools as high as 3.5% this year. CPI on the other hand is around 0.5%.

The measures that are used to identify need matter a lot too. The one that is being used was selected from a range that Treasury and the Ministry of Education identified in a large piece of research using publicly held data on what factors increase the chance of a student not achieving at school. Other ones include having a CYFS notification, having a mother with no qualifications, or having a parent in prison, as well as living in very low socio-economic communities. Why this one was chosen and not others, and whether it is the best identifier of need is something that is not clear. Arguably it is the least politically sensitive and stigmatising.

On the other hand, there are many other factors or variables that increase the chances of not achieving at school, ethnicity and familial income are two significant ones. The OECD’s PISA tests looks at correlation with a huge number of other factors too, some of which are very significant. According to this, the strongest predictor of high achievement (in PISA) is having over 200 books in your home, and presumably having no books is a risk factor.

For some time many people in the education sector have been asking for greater targeting for need, not just better measures but greater weighting. This change seems to be a nod in the direction rather than a concerted effort to achieve this. On one hand, that is good, as the significant funding review that the sector has asked for is just getting underway. On the other hand, it is difficult to understand why the government would do this now, when it won’t make any positive difference as the amounts are so small.

There are lots of questions to be asked about how this will work too:

·         Does the MoE have the capacity to do the data matching required? This presumably will mean linking national student numbers with parents’ identities, and/or children’s identities when listed on a benefit application. This has been done for historic cohorts before, but we weren’t aware that it could be done in ‘real time’.

·         Some students will be difficult to categorise. Does a student who, for example, lives half time in a benefit dependent household, and half time in an employed household, meet the test?

·         Is the figure of 20% of students meeting this test accurate? Treasury data from last year shows that a16.6% of five year olds born in 2007 fitted this category. If there are fewer students who meet the test, will the funding per student increase? If there are more will it decrease?

·         PPTA understands that this is based on a once a year snapshot of a school roll, so students that fit this category that leave during the year don’t take their funding. Does a student that fits the category that moves to another school get funded additionally, or is it a onetime only resource.


Because CPI is so low at the moment there was a simple and cheap way that the government could have introduced this funding mechanism and avoided any cries from schools that are getting a funding freeze. By giving every school a CPI increase, and then layering this funding on top, making clear that this is a new category of operational funding that is intended to fit with the new data driven social investment approach would have been very straightforward, avoided any accusations of cuts or freezes and would have cost only an extra $22 million. This would still have been significantly less than most years’ operations grant increases.

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Remember the Claytons advertisement - the drink you have when you are not having a drink? More recently Tui advertisements have added to our New Zealand lexicon "Yeah Right!"

It seems we are working on the latest Tui billboard with the education funding review – truly a Claytons review.

The review you have when you are not having a review.

Special education and alternative education are crying out for funding. 

Parents wonder what happened to  'free education for all' as they hand over yet more money to enable their local school to provide the basics.

And so last week the Education funding review was publicly announced - “The Government is interested in the role that funding can play in enabling schools and ECE services to better meet the needs of all children and young people.” And acknowledges “resourcing levels may not be well matched to the teaching and learning challenge and care and pastoral needs at each stage of learning.”

PPTA supports an education funding review – and have asked for a broad review – there are a number of papers on our website regarding this and with the National Education Leaders Partnership we’ve agreed on some principles.

But the bizarre bit is this - in the same week as the Minister announces the review and  acknowledges the resourcing issue for our schools, the Undersecretary for Education announces that hundreds of thousands of dollars are to be spent on the charter school experiment- new schools and a government funded charter school think tank

Charter schools are an  education business model designed to primarily benefit sponsors (aka business/trust owners)  – the product is NCEA credits (or similar)  rather than student education  – with a long term view to testing whether education can be left to the market to manage.

Unfortunately the generous start-up and ongoing funding for this business model takes money from the state education funding pool. 

It does seem to make a mockery of a transparent and open process for an education funding review in the context of an underfunded state schooling system.

Let’s hope for all our sakes it’s not “Education funding review? Yeah Right!”

Post Script - the budget 2016 didn't make an inflation adjusted increase for state schools (although charter schools are guaranteed this) and pre-empted the funding review by targeting (on one available variable) some students for a small ($1.79 per targeted student a week) increase in funding to their schools.


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The half a million dollar bung given to a new outfit to promote charter schools, E Tipu E Rea, takes the whole fiasco to new depths of corruption.


1.       The new body is filled with Act and National cronies

Like Catherine Isaac, who is on the other publicly funded board that’s gouging the public purse to promote charter schools, Jenny Gibbs who is on this one, is a senior Act Party doyenne and a major donor to the party, giving over $50,000 in March this year alone.  The chair of this group, Rob McLeod, is a former chair of the Business Round Table, and was shown to be busy fundraising for National in the emails released in Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men. And La’auli Michael Jones has been heavily tipped to be a future National MP.  

The insistence throughout its proposal that this is an ‘apolitical and neutral’ organisation is risible.

2.       It’s doing a political job with public money

One of its goals is to get opposition parties who oppose charters to change their position.

Clark’s Labour government had the pledge card fiasco, but did they fund a bunch of lobbyists to work on the National Party not to roll back their student loan policy?

Incumbent parties already have a huge advantage when it comes to winning elections, but then using taxpayer funding to try and undermine the ability of elections to actually bring about change is taking this to the next level.

3.       No other organisation doing this sort of work gets public funding

In the application for funding they compare themselves to other organisations working in the sector that they claim to be similar to. The Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools, Area Schools Association, Private School Proprietors and so forth, all do advocate on behalf of their members, with the ministry of education, and the public and government when they get the chance.

But those organisations certainly don’t get any government funding to do it. They run on the smell of an oily rag, with what they can collect in membership fees. This outfit is getting  $500,000 in its first year from the government, and then claims that they will run on philanthropic donations. I’ve no doubt that the poor old philanthropist will continue to be the New Zealand taxpayer.

4.       The procurement process was a joke

The ‘direct source’ method that was used to select E Tipu E Rea to be the support agency for charter school sponsors is rarely used, and for a good reason. A tender process, either open or closed, is more likely to result in better quality applicants, and a more cost effective service. David Seymour, who signed this off, is constantly whining about Steven Joyce’s ‘crony capitalism’, but this is even worse. The only justification given for using this method of selection in the cabinet papers was to get it running in time. This is the same justification that’s been used to slip through all sorts of questionable spending on this policy already – expediency trumps transparency and good process again.  

5.       There is already an outfit being paid to do this

For a policy which was supposed to cut down on bureaucracy there seems to be a lot of cash going into the pockets of people who aren’t actually involved in running the schools.

The ‘Partnership School Authorisation Board’ has spent over $500,000 already. While the ministry claims that these two organisations have separate roles, with the Authorisation Board providing advice on who should run charter schools, and E Tipu E Rea advocating for sponsors and helping them get nice applications in, they both are committed to the success of the policy, and building public support for it, such as the Authorisation Board’s charm offensive with the Iwi Leaders Forum to encourage them to get in applications.

And of course, don’t forget that the Ministry of Education and School Trustees Association are also offering significant support for charter schools, parachuting in new staff to help when they are struggling, and doing their own pro-active PR.



The ministry officials who signed this deal off should be feeling deeply uneasy about being involved. It stinks to high heaven, and I’d be very surprised if the Auditor General’s graft-o-meter wasn’t already pinging. 

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Classrooms are complex places. Perhaps more than ever before teachers are responsible not just for the transfer of knowledge in the academic sense but also for the pastoral care and social development of young people. Added to this, the growing expectation that teachers will quickly learn to harness new technologies and implement the latest techniques for engaging, supporting and challenging the learners in their charge, makes the job ever more complex and demanding.

Of course, such expectations are not baseless: In fact, teachers themselves place great value on their professionalism and ongoing learning and, despite their ballooning workload, most somehow manage to find the time to hunt down, ingest and implement what they need so they can ensure that the interactions that occur in their classrooms are transformational for their students – that is, after all, their role.

However, there is a difference between expecting teachers to acquire additional skills and strategies and creating the environment for this to occur.

Unfortunately, this is often a stumbling block.

Because many teachers have had to be heroes – finding, building and sharing strategies to meet the needs of their learners – there seems to be an expectation that this should continue without having to resource it. Subsequently, approaches to professional learning by the Ministry of Education have typically involved system level priorities -and funding – which largely requires individual teachers to access their own professional learning (PLD), outside these mandated areas, on their own steam.

Further complications arise when centrally funded PLD that is available is often disconnected from the needs of teachers. In fact, instead of supporting on-going learning for teachers, Ministry funded PLD has been used in many cases as a fulcrum for Ministerial pet projects or system changes that may make sense on paper -in the broadest terms- but have varying degrees of relevance for those teaching students in our schools. …Sadly, schools often jump to sign up for any PLD which is centrally funded – putatively so that they can provide something for their teaching staff without blowing the meagre PLD resources they have.

Educational guruism, in the form of externally provided initiatives for purchase by schools, has also run rampant over the past decade, resulting in myriad (sometimes conflicting) professional learning opportunities that occupy teacher time and energy. Unfortunately, many of these too are ‘nice to haves’ rather than ‘need to haves’, providing something new rather than what teachers need to do the best job they can with the kids in their classrooms. Instead, private interests such as CORE and Cognition appear to have generated a cottage industry in new approaches for teachers to try (and Senior Managers to implement to pad out their CVs) that are often just another thing teachers have to make space for – on top of trying to do the best for their learners. (Jut ask teachers participating in CORE’s Academic Mentoring programmes whether this has helped them access Subject Specific PLD).

Of course, some of these programmes are robust and some of the gurus reputable – but, sadly, ‘one size fits all’ approaches to PLD still leave the teachers who need (or simply want) particular professional learning having to find (and fund) it themselves.

This tension, between what teachers need, what the Ministry choose to prioritise and what market providers and gurus are selling is unlikely to be assuaged without a wholesale reconstruction of the PLD framework.

Happily, we are told this is currently underway. (However, only the very naïve would expect that a sudden change of outlook will occur, where teachers’ ongoing professional learning becomes needs based, teacher centred and well resourced). Ironically, exactly what is needed is least likely to result from the new PLD framework. Instead it will likely prioritise the system level goals du jour, provide a new set of parameters for private providers and gurus and likely leave the mechanism for accessing needs based or teacher identified PLD as the status quo.

In short, it will be a lost opportunity.

Expecting that a ‘heroic’ model should continue is simply unsustainable – teacher time is not infinite – rather, all teachers should have access to funded and proven PLD to bootstrap their practice. If we are all to be great teachers such access should be a given. At the same time, professional autonomy needs to be protected – mandated participation in centrally provided PLD is not the answer.

How then, should the PLD Reference Group enable teachers to continue developing their practice without placing unattainable expectations on them?

One way might be identifying the expertise that already exists within the system and creating the time and space for this to be shared. Certainly, the dismantling of the competitive Tomorrows Schools model may well lead to increased opportunities for teachers to collaborate on what is best practice, likewise the Communities of Learning. But there are still substantial hurdles:

One. The premise that teachers will find the time themselves to do this collaboration.

Two. The reality that schools’ purchasing power to ‘buy in’ the professional learning their schools and teachers need is limited.

Three. The preponderance of private professional learning providers who have not always demonstrated the flexibility to tailor their products to what is needed for the teachers in schools.

Four. A draconian ‘compliance’ approach that seeks to mandate participation in professional learning without targeting professional learning to the identified needs of the teacher.

Certainly, in the current context, with greater emphasis on each student reaching their potential through analysing evidence and the latest focus on personalised learning, it is a given that teachers will need to engage in further on-going learning to ensure the best learning opportunities are there for their students. But, while teachers are almost always supportive of evidence based, well-resourced and effective professional learning, they are also likely to baulk at another set of forced changes and expectations – especially if they cannot see that they actually need them or if they are going to have to find the time and training to do it without sufficient support.


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Posted by on in Student behaviour

Eric Crampton, from the New Zealand Initiative, pointed out some research recently which resonated with the experience of a lot of people around here.

It’s about the impact of disruptive students on their peers, and after some of those brain-ache inducing calculations that econometrists of education in the USA are fond of, concludes that they have a significantly bad impact on their educational attainment– to the extent of reducing future earnings to a statistically significant extent.  Here’s a link to the research.

Not being a researcher, I struggled with the use of children’s exposure to domestic violence as the identifier used to determine that a student is disruptive. Surely if the researchers have access to school records (which they did for test scores) they could have used students who were suspended or expelled from school at some point as the identifier instead – which still wouldn’t be perfect, but would have to be an improvement.

But the final sentence of Eric’s post got me thinking. He writes  “The benefits to disruptive students of being in mainstream classrooms would have to be substantial to make integrated classrooms desirable overall.”

This seems somewhat out of touch with how our schools work.  The reality is almost all schools in New Zealand see integration (of disruptive students) as desirable. Removing students, from class or from school, is heavily frowned on by the powers that be (unless you’re a charter school apparently), and the vast majority of schools agree.

An example of this is from a very traditional boys’ school I visited a few years ago which had just got rid of the ‘withdrawal room’ where students were sent to cool off when they were playing up in class. Now teachers were expected to deal with the problem; the message teachers were given was “be more interesting and the boys won’t cause trouble”.  This is consistent from the top down, when the Minister praises schools for getting the rates of suspensions and expulsions down, and the Ministry of Education’s PB4L action plan is about keeping students engaged and at school.

There are a lot of good things about this, and there are good reasons to believe that school practices can reduce the rates of disruption. But, like with student achievement gaps, school practices on their own almost certainly won’t be able to eliminate the problem.

But Eric also seems to assume that there’s a reasonable alternative for ‘disruptive’ students, which isn’t being in mainstream classrooms. Currently there are around 1800 students in Alternative Education (AE) centres, which are where some of the ‘most challenging’ students end up .  While AE providers no doubt are doing the best they can, the outcomes for these students are not good – a 2011 report by ERO found that 37% of the cohort they studied had what they identified as ‘positive outcomes’ after a year.

And AE is only for students aged 13-16 who are “genuinely alienated from the education system”, and specifically not for students who are “difficult to manage in a mainstream setting”. So of the around 230,000 students aged 13-16, there are places for 1800 highly alienated ones in AE centres. What else is there? Very little.

Both practical and ethical considerations mean that we don’t really have a lot of choice about keeping disruptive students in school.

Research we did in 2007 indicated that parents were concerned with disruption in schools – with 18% saying it was a serious problem, and another 43 % saying it was an occasional one. Many expressed a common view of four or five disruptive children per class. Figures reported to the Ministry indicate that, unsurprisingly, rates of formal discipline interventions increase significantly the lower down the decile scale, and the Ministry recognises this by prioritising PB4L support to lower decile schools.

So what else can be done?

Accepting that we shouldn’t, and can’t exclude disruptive students from mainstream education, but that they do, as the research indicates, have a serious impact, particularly when there are multiple disruptive students in a class, maybe the solution is about reducing the numbers of disruptive students in each class?

One way to do this is to dedicate staffing to low decile schools where disruptive students are more prevalent. If classes in those schools went from 25-30 students with 3 or 4 disruptive students to 15-20 with 1-2 that would significantly improve their peers’ learning. This isn’t just backed up by the research Eric points out, it’s also supported by evidence about where class size interventions make the most difference; one of the groups that they make the most difference for is low SES students.


And to go back to Eric’s blog,  if parents knew that the low decile school they were considering for their child had significantly smaller class sizes than the alternative, and therefore the teachers would be much better placed to deal with disruptive behaviour, that could encourage them not to ‘choose up’ the decile scale. 

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Posted by on in Charter schools

David Seymour almost appears reasonable when discussing educational choice – stating that consumers should be “free to choose the school that suits them” is a nice political soundbite, made more compelling given his personal foibles and practised earnestness. But, let’s be frank - every school in New Zealand must cater for difference. Schools are obliged to provide opportunities for all akonga to learn while providing the acculturation they need to take their place in society.

The public system provides this – and continued improvement will result from sharing best practice and providing professional development for teachers to meet the needs of all, not from ideology dressed up as fact.

Education ‘silos’, ostensibly catering for interest groups, will do little to ensure these needs are met. Rather, evidence suggests that students who do not meet a Charter’s targets are ‘let go’ (and those with complex educational needs often don’t get in in the first place).

Imagining that an approach to schooling which allows untrained and unregistered teachers, lacks an evidence base, is without any public scrutiny around how managers spend taxpayer dollars and does not require these institutions to take the very learners Seymour suggests might 'need' a new model is not about choice - it's political chicanery.

Word map - political chicanery


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Posted by on in Politics

There isn't much that shouldn't be taught at school - possibly there isn't anything that shouldn't be taught at school (especially if you ask politician who is trying to find an answer for a particularly vocal constituent, lobby group and/or party donor).

Schools should (and many do) educate kids on:

how to be financially savvy

how to be entrepreneurs

how to drive

how to swim

reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic

how to appreciate the importance of the dairy industry

how to cook

how to clean

how to garden

how to have sex

how not to have sex

how to dress

how not to dress

how to .... (fill in the blank)

It's nearly the weekend - so I'm going with Italy's idea:

schools should teach kids how to drink wine.

(and NZ craft beer - Have a good weekend!)



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Charter schools have been kicking out students at a rate many times higher than comparable public schools, a risk raised when they were first proposed.

Vanguard Military Academy expelled or excluded four students in 2014, and another four in the first half of 2015, while the total number of students at the school was around 100.

The average rate of exclusions in public schools in 2014 was 1.4 per thousand students, and expulsion was 1 per thousand students. Vanguard’s rate was more than 20 times the national average.

A 2012 report in the Herald on data about suspensions showed that even schools with very high rates of use of formal disciplinary measures, such as Rotorua’s Western Heights High and Hamilton’s Fraser High School, had lower rates than Vanguard, which excluded or expelled nearly 4% of its students, compared to 1.2% and 2.5% respectively.

Charter schools in the USA are notorious for doing this, with research from Chicago showing the charters were expelling students at over 10 times the rate of public schools. In New York just last month children’s advocates called for increased accountability and transparency with charter school discipline processes to address this significant problem.

Vanguard not only has very high exclusion and expulsion rates, it also has very high numbers of students leaving during the year, with 29 of 104 leaving during the 2014 school year, nearly 30% of the school.

While their representative claims that this is because they have completed qualifications and are leaving to further work or study, this has not been independently verified. Internationally charter schools are known to informally exit students who will undermine their achievement data.

Vanguard is not the only charter school in New Zealand with unusually high levels of disciplinary exiting of students and turnover of students during the year. South Auckland Middle School, with 111 students, excluded 2 students in 2014 and another 1 in the first half of 2015.

The same operator runs another charter in West Auckland which just opened in 2015 and excluded one student in its first six months.

South Auckland Middle School (SAMS) also mirrors Vanguard in the high number of students leaving during the year, with 15 students leaving during the school year of 2014. Turnover during the year of more than 10% would be very unusual at any public school.

The high turnover and disciplinary rates at these charters casts real doubt on their achievement claims – any school that got rid of ‘problem students’ at that rate could get fantastic NCEA stats. And while charter supporters may say it’s a good thing as it shows they’re maintaining high standards, it completely undermines the claim that this policy is about raising achievement for students who are failing in the mainstream system.

And in the USA this video, filmed in a classroom at a Success Academy charter school has again raised questions about ‘no excuses’ charter schools treatment of students.  It’s not hard to see from this why student turnover at these schools would be high.




Figures are all from the school’s annual and quarterly reports, which are available here: http://www.education.govt.nz/ministry-of-education/information-releases/partnership-schools-kura-hourua-information-release/approved-partnership-schools/  Annual reports for 2015 have not yet been released, so data goes up to July that year.

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I am  surprised at the comments made by some Principals over recent days. I have sat on a cross sector Health and Safety Forum that was formed on 9 December 2014 and has met regularly since.

Every agency involved in any aspect of education in NZ has been represented. This group has cooperated, debated, argued and resolved issues that suddenly have reared their heads again.

The liability and ability to sue individual teachers and principals has been around since the 1992 Health and Safety in Employment Act was passed and continues through various amendments until the present day.

These fines were for failure to provide duty of care and gross negligence and where serious harm was caused, as such nothing much has changed.

1992 penalties

(a) imprisonment for a term of not more than 2 years; or
(b) a fine of not more than $500,000; or
(c) both.


a fine not exceeding $250,000, who fails to comply with the requirements of……….


Every person who fails to comply with section 16(3) commits an offence, and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000.

So what has changed?

2015 penalties

The Act creates three offence tiers relating to breaches of the health and safety duties. The offences and the respective maximum penalties can be summarised as follows:

Reckless Conduct (has a duty and exposes any person to whom the duty is owed to risk of death or serious injury/illness and is reckless as to that risk) – fines up to $3 million
(or $600,000 and/or up to five years’ imprisonment for individuals).

Failure to comply with a Duty (with exposure to risk of death or serious injury/illness) –
fines up to $1.5 million (or $300,000 for individuals).

Failure to comply with a Duty (no exposure to death or serious injury/illness) – fines up to $500,000
(or $100,000 for individuals).

So let me see prior to the new act fines of up to $500,000 caused no issues ($500k is approx. $808K now) but $600,000 now is a problem? That means individual houses have to be put in trust?


Who is kidding who?

The new law clarifies and tightens up lines of responsibility and that post Pike River is a good thing but in order to qualify for these fines you must have done something reasonably (extremely) bad.

Today saw the launch of a health and safety practical guide for boards of trustees and school leaders. The guide provides clear explanations, example policies, procedures and checklists. The Ministry have also separated out the individual tools and put write enabled versions under the appropriate sections on the webspace.

The dual NZSTA and Ministry resource, the guide has been peer reviewed by over 80 schools and the Health and Safety Sector Reference Group, (the forum) made up of your principal associations, PPTA, NZEI and NZSTA. NZSTA have also committed to printing and sending all schools a copy of this guide.

To ensure a positive health and safety culture, as well as compliance, at all workplaces the general expectation is that schools will review their practices in this area to ensure they are meeting the requirements. Our practical guide and factsheets will support principals and boards to meet their obligations.

As the forum have said all along, if you have sound robust current systems then you have nothing to worry about. Do ensure that you get feedback from your organisation representative at the very informative forum.

If you are a PPTA member get the latest updates by contacting us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Yesterday’s release of leaked documents from the Ministry of Education on a potential replacement for the decile funding system was a good kick-start to the debate on school funding.

Predictably though, there does seem to be a lot of confusion about how schools are currently funded, let alone what’s being proposed.

To start off, on One News last night Katie Bradford said that government funding is “allocated based on a school’s decile rating.”

That’s a lot like saying “How well kids do at school depends on how good their teachers are.” Yep, it’s true to some extent, but there are a bunch of other factors that matter too, and their impact is far from negligible.

Conveniently, with regards to funding, we can work out exactly how big all these factors are.


That little red bit above, in the middle of each column is the part that is generated by the decile rating of each school. It ranges from 8% of total resourcing in decile 1 schools to 1% in decile 10. Compare this to locally raised funds, i.e. what they get from having fee paying international students, art auctions, or sausage sizzles, which ranges from 4% at decile 1 to 15% at decile 10.

Much to no one’s surprise, Mike Hosking was well off beam on the topic.

“Deciles are a very very blunt instrument, a big wide geographic net that somehow encapsulates a bunch of kids, based on little more than the value of the house they happen to live in. And having used that blunt instrument you then toss money at the school based on that number.”

While lots of people have been talking about the ‘blunt instrument’ of deciles, the reason for that is they do not recognise characteristics of individual students at a school , and not because they are an unsophisticated or simplistic measure. If you want to get into the details of how they are calculated, it’s all in this great post from Professor John O’Neill. Suffice to say, house value has nothing to do with it.

If, as Hosking asserts, decile ratings are used to ‘toss money’ at schools, then the graph above should show that low decile schools were getting significant amounts of their funding on that basis. It clearly doesn’t.

And talking about tossing money at schools, the amount that high decile schools raise from their communities, both as a percentage and in absolute terms massively outweighs any funding that’s generated as a result of measures of need. The figures are that the lowest decile get $42 million in decile related funding, while the highest raised over $100 million. To put it another way, decile one schools on average are 'tossed' about $145,000 per school by the government, while decile 10 schools each get around $380,000 from their local fundraising. 

The only part of school funding that seems to be up for a change in the proposal that the Ministry is considering is that little red section, i.e. the decile component. It’s not insignificant, but it’s not exactly a comprehensive review of school funding, and won’t touch on much bigger questions, such as the overall sufficiency of funding.

One illustration of how we’re going with that can be found in the graph below – which is directly from the Ministry of Education’s website.



This shows New Zealand’s per student funding remain persistently below other developed countries. I’m guessing this isn’t going to be a part of the debate though, and instead we’ll have Hosking and other blunt instruments telling us that tossing money at things doesn’t help. 

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On the way to work yesterday morning I read this:

Gerry Brownlee, the making of the man in charge

It was the first three paragraphs that caught my eye:

"The crowd at the Post Primary Teachers' Association meeting was almost united. Brian Dunne, a maths and religious education teacher from St Bede's College, can't recall what the motion was for, but he remembers the entire meeting was in favour of it, except for one voice. It was Gerry Brownlee who called out "No".

"When they said 'carried' he yelled out 'division'," Dunne said, "Which meant they had to go and count every vote. That was Gerry."

Gerry Brownlee, a singing, rugby-loving woodwork teacher from Christchurch, already appeared to be cultivating an image as a master contrarian. He was a loyal National party man in a roomful of teachers for starters. Here he was making sure everybody knew.

Brownlee has ascended from fighting the good fight in an enemy stronghold to be the number three man in the National Party and the Earthquake Recovery Minister."

The framing would appear to be

1.     That teachers don't belong to the National Party (except Gerry did and he was a teacher)
2.     That fellow teachers are the enemy (doesn't say much for  the reporter's view of teamwork, collegiality or professional relationships)
3.     That members of the PPTA  are the enemy (except for the fact that, according to this story, Gerry was obviously an active member of the PPTA)

And assumptions that

  • the other teachers in the room knew Gerry was a National Party supporter.
  • the other teachers cared about what political party Gerry (or any colleague) belonged to.
  • teachers vote along party political lines not on the basis of their professional beliefs.
  • teachers who are National Party supporters should treat their colleagues with disrespect.

Poor Gerry -  what a conundrum to be in.

Imagine changing a sentence -

"He was a loyal National party man in a roomful of fellow citizens (fellow voters)." Or even

"He was a PPTA member in a roomful of fellow PPTA members" (or unionists if you prefer).

"He was a proud teacher in a roomful of teaching colleagues."

Gerry was all of the above - but then there’s no story and the next sentence about fighting some imaginary enemy wouldn't make any sense.

If that's the quality of the story that was being sought - then it was certainly a good reason for Gerry Brownlee to decline to be interviewed.



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Posted by on in Education

Despite certain MPs chirruping that “we place more value on things we pay for”, the pitfalls of the ‘free market’ have struck a chord recently.

We read that 60% of the higher incomes associated with having tertiary qualifications are cancelled out by the current Loans System and that Teacher Aides may make less over their careers than people with no formal tertiary qualifications.
(Further, we frequently hear that newly trained primary teachers can’t find jobs -so have to find alternatives to pay back their Loans- while first year secondary teachers can only find precarious fixed-term work -despite teacher shortages).

This is out of tune with National’s “everything is rosy” chorus.

The ‘user pays’ approach also has consequences for schools: when the MOE spreads the putea more thinly to meet business-model educational precepts, we see ‘efficiencies’ to school-based initiatives and other operational costs and the farming out of in-school services to private contractors (which schools can “choose” to pay for).

The result is that parents have propped up what schools ‘are expected’ to provide, to the tune of $1 billion.

Whether or not Labour’s free study and Future of Work policies provide the answer, at least they are humming a different tune.

$ apple

(Jack Boyle is the PPTA Executive member for Hutt Valley/Wairarapa. Letter published in Dominion Post February 2016)

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Hekia has said it hundreds of times, Graham Stoop’s got it stuck on a loop, it’s all over their website, and it’s even written into the law – so it must be true, right?

The Education Council is supposed to be ‘raising the status of the profession’… isn’t it?

If so, their new approach to reporting deregistration decisions is mystifying.

Check the list of their latest press releases:


The Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal (which covers the two most well respected professions in the country, nurses and doctors) doesn’t put out press releases trumpeting their decisions to deregister someone who has done wrong.

Neither do the Law Society or IPENZ.  

Yes, the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal releases its decisions publicly as it should, and as the Education Council should too. The outcomes of these decisions are clearly in the public interest.  But it’s quite a different thing to send around a press release.

Transparency about these decisions is important, and making sure that people who are unfit are not allowed to teach is one of the most important roles of the Council.

But shouldn’t the Council have a calm and measured approach to this? Press statements on these decisions are in bad taste and make it appear as if the Council is desperately seeking publicity.

Journalists cover these decisions in great detail anyway, and it wouldn’t be hard for them to find out who to call at the Council for comment.

The Education Council’s PR has been ham-fisted on a number of occasions now, from failing to engage with the stigmatising front page story on mentally ill teachers to briefly releasing suppressed details online.  Let’s hope the substance of what they are doing, which is so crucially important, is of better quality than the spin.

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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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