Opinion on a replacement for the school decile system has been divided, with the primary teachers' union calling it “merely shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic” unless schools get more funding.
The government has announced the decile system is to be replaced with a ‘risk index'. Rather than allocating funding to schools on the basis of neighbourhood characteristics, funding will now be targeted at children most at risk of not achieving due to disadvantage. The risk index will also be applied to early childhood education.
Education minister Nikki Kaye says schools have been stigmatised and wrongly judged by their decile number for too long.
“Children and young people deserve to take pride in their school and we need to better target funding to where the need is greatest to support all children to achieve.”
The minister has assured schools that no one will see a reduction in funding as a result of the change, which is expected to take effect from 2019 or 2020.
But the primary teachers' union, NZEI, says the announcement is short on detail.
"Unless schools and early childhood services get a major and immediate funding jolt, any new way to divvy up funding will be a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic," president Lynda Stuart says.
"We'll be glad to see the end of the stigmatising aspects of the decile funding scheme, but the main issue facing schools and early childhood services is a dire lack of funding.
"Though the minister has promised no school or service will be worse off under the new scheme, we don't know what that means in practice.
"It's time for the government to stop scrimping on children's education and provide what's needed for every child to have the best education in the world.”
The proposed new system has been welcomed by New Zealand Kindergartens and the New Zealand School Trustees Association.
"Shifting away from the current decile and equity funding system is a welcome move," says NZK chief executive Clare Wells.
"Funding through a new system has the potential to better support each child who needs it by reducing disparities and improving learning outcomes.”
NZSTA president Lorraine Kerr says the move to target equity funding to students instead of schools is “really exciting stuff.”
"Parents and communities will need to start looking at the actual educational progress students are making when they try to assess school quality, instead of the hoary old decile labels, which have been really misleading.
"It is going to take everyone a while to really get their heads around it, because the real significance of this change is that we're recognising that funding belongs with the students, and that schools are kaitiaki – caretakers of that funding," she says. "It's not ours as of right, it's ours to use in the service of our students.
"Real change is hard work, and we all have some hard work ahead of us to ensure that the new system does not replicate the problems of labelling and superficial reporting that has dogged the decile system.”