Education soap opera: ‘One in five: The phrase of our lives’


Speaking to the Independent Schools of New Zealand (ISNZ) annual conference on Saturday 29th June, Minister of Education Hekia Parata expressed her dislike of the decile based school funding system that delivers proportionately higher funding to schools in lower socio-economic areas, claiming that ‘the socioeconomic status of pupils – were too often used “as an excuse and an explanation” for everything that happened in schools.Source

Further: “We do need to review the way we fund schools and focus more on outcomes rather than blunt proxy.

One does raise metaphorical eyebrows about her decision to deliver this speech at a private schools’ conference, rather than to, for example, the New Zealand School Trustees Association conference being held shortly.

Her stance leads to funding primary schools on outcomes against national standards results. We all know how dubious, unreliable and invalid these are. This means following the overseas practice of rewarding schools with ‘good’ results, while punishing schools with ‘poor’ results, i.e., predominantly those in lower socio-economic areas.

Funding schools on results leads to yet another overseas practice – closing schools with ‘poor’ national standards results, and replacing these with charter schools. And so the wheels turn on their way to a semi-privatised provision of schooling in New Zealand.

Did you read about this in National’s 2011 Education Policy, released five days before the election?

During the week, Kelvin Smythe wrote an article that reveals, hidden away in 2011 Treasury Papers, the step by step programme to change school funding and in particular, the return of the teacher salary bulk funding regime beloved by the previous National government in the 1990s.

Just as bad, if not worse, is the notion of ‘contestable funding’ that lurks in the depths of the documentation. This would mean schools having to submit applications for set funding against given criteria, resulting in a have/have not schooling system depending on the success or failure of applications. Huge time and efforts sinks, often for no outcome.

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If this comes about then we will be much closer to a duality of schooling provision, largely determined by socio-economic influences, and much more removed from any notion of egalitarianism.

Parata also made the claim that experts had found that four consecutive years of quality teaching eliminated any trace of socio-economic disadvantage.

In New Zealand we provide 13 years. You’d think it would not be too much to expect that four of those are good quality.” 

Rubbish but not surprising as this is her usual level of discourse. She’s apparently stated this on other recent occasions, so that enables us to see what is coming – yet another attack on teachers’ integrity and professionalism, to justify more ‘reform.’

The expert (singular) that the neoliberals fall upon to back up their claims is one Eric Hanushek, an economist who has decreed himself to be an expert on all things educational, through his research into measuring inputs and outputs in education. The government’s heavily Treasury influenced education policies reinterpret Hanushek in the New Zealand context.

It is Hanushek who claimed that increasing expenditure on schooling in lower socio-economic areas makes no difference, even though this has now been thoroughly discredited.

It is Hanushek who claimed that quality teaching overcomes all poverty issues, another finding that has been comprehensively debunked.

If you want to know more, Dianne Khan has written an excellent analysis of Parata’s statements, and her dependence on Eric Hanushek: Unpacking the sound bite “quality teaching eliminates socioeconomic disadvantage”

Not to be outdone, Kelvin Smythe also leapt to the keyboard, to write the following satire about Parata:

Education soap opera: ‘One in five: The phrase of our lives’

Overview for next episode of ‘One in five: The phrase of our lives’.

As usual, the episode to begin with Hekia Parata’s head (tilted back in haughty style) set up as ball in the mouth clown at a fun fair. That fixed and false smile much in evidence as her head swivels from side to side. Swirling around is the caption ‘One in five, take your chance’. A close up shows a ball being shoved with exaggerated gusto into that irritating smile, but the ball is never to reappear. Cut to a smirking John Key with his dopiest of Stan Laurel expressions.

Cut to Parata at a Queenstown conference for independent schools.

She is questioned about the validity of a NZCER report saying that schools in wealthy areas were receiving about $1100 more in funding than their lower decile counterparts.

Never one to take research at face value she responds by saying, ‘I’m unable to comment on the funding claim.’

She adds, ‘I would be surprised if it’s accurate, though.’

With a deepening smirk on her face, she says, ‘We have been so generous, especially to lower decile schools, I’m not surprised some schools have dropped their requests for donations.’

‘I don’t like deciles. I never have.’ Her expression indicating something deep from within her soul, fundamental to her very being. (You know the expression, it’s her: ‘I’m a mother, too’.)

‘The problem is that it ends up giving more money to children from lower socio-economic areas for no good reason and obviously to no good effect.’

‘Although the intention of the decile system – to recognise different socio-economic challenges – was good. It appears to have become outdated.’

‘Our social welfare and education policies have so improved social equity, we can now move on.’

‘We need to focus more on outcomes rather than blunt proxy.’

‘Anyway, experts have found that four consecutive years of quality teaching eliminated any trace of socio-economic advantage.’

And in what serves now as the way the National government announces new policy, Hekia Parata says with heavy sarcasm: ‘In New Zealand we provide 13 years. You’d think it wouldn’t be too much to expect that four of those are good quality. We are looking at the whole issue.’

It was also a policy announced to people from independent schools, none of whom have anything to do with deciles and decile funding – a deft post-modern touch.

When asked who those experts were she corrects herself by saying she meant ‘expert’, an education economist, Eric Hanushek.

‘Would you be surprised if it’s accurate?’

‘I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. He’s American and the recommendation came from Treasury,’ she says with heartfelt emphasis.

‘The overall trouble is that those schools serving – if that’s the right word – lower socio-economic areas use poverty as an excuse. They can either do something about it, for instance, oh I won’t go into that, but you know what I mean, somehow come up with good results, or suffer the consequences.’

‘Indeed, we are finding teachers are applying for teaching jobs in poverty-stricken areas, just so they can use that as an excuse.’

It is pointed out to her that NZCER had cited a study that said children ‘from poor homes needed 40 per cent to 100 per cent more funding for each child to provide equitable learning opportunities.’

‘Where did that come from?’

‘America and a prestigious university.’

‘I’m unable to comment on that funding claim.’

She adds, ‘I’d be surprised if it’s accurate, though.’

Cut now to Hekia Parata’s office, Hekia is there plus sister and two Treasury officials. They are discussing a Treasury paper T2011/2429, headed: ‘Implementing change in schooling over the next three years.’ [This document is discussed here] It is a step-by-step policy guide to introducing contestability and bulk funding into secondary and primary schools.

She reads: ‘Contestable performance reward based on improved student performance demonstrated by value added data using PaCT.’

Hekia is beaming, ‘I’m loving it.’


‘We will use the four-year Hanushek rule,’ thumping the desk with glee.

‘That will give notice to those soon-to-be weeded out intermediates?’

‘And think of those schools where every four years there is a near complete turnover of roll. They won’t know whether they are Arthur or Martha.’

‘When they attempt to use the turnover as an excuse, I will say, “Well you ought to lift the quality of the school’s teaching so they won’t leave.” ’

‘And those poor fools who put out statements welcoming the review will find the deciles still there as part of the contestable process.’

‘This one-in-five policy is working a treat.’

Now what can we do about the public perception?’

‘That’s here minister, in column one under the heading of expanding the debate: “Utilise engagement process associated with Long term Fiscal Statement process to socialise key education cost/quality issues with the public.” ’

‘Brilliant. What does it mean?’

‘That’s right above it minister: “Engage with business leaders/representatives to discuss literacy and numeracy; success or otherwise for further change from demand side perspective.” ’

[Please note: Most of the Hekia comments at Queenstown are actual comments or in the spirit of those comments. Check the Southland Times for report on what she actually said.]


  1. In case someone from Hekia Parata’s office is reading this here is an invitation and challenge.

    The Minister is invited to live in Whangarei in one of the lower socio-economic areas for four years. Over those years she is welcome to go into a local school and follow a group of kids through until they have finished their fourth year of schooling. She will be able to observe the good quality of teaching that goes on through the time.

    At the end of their fourth year, even though the children will have two more years of school before their intermediate years, she will be welcome to attend a graduation ceremony. There she can present a certificate to each child finishing year four which says: “Congratulations (so-and-so), now that you have had four consecutive years of quality teaching any trace of socio-economic disadvantage has been eliminated.”

    When she has done that she can go back to Cloud Cuckoo Land. If she sells the idea right she could get kids to start school when they are 1 year old in every country, to get going as quickly as possible, and there’ll be no traces of socio-economic disadvantage anywhere in the world.

    As a sideline maybe Ms Parata can read up on Mao Zedong. Since socio-economic disadvantage is because teachers have failed to provide four consecutive years of quality education, her own brand of Cultural Revolution could be launched. Let’s herd the teachers up and deal to them. I’m sure Crusher Collins and Honest John Banks would be up for that.

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