Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) commends the Government’s proposal to take school zoning responsibilities out of the hands of school boards and principals and instead have these taken up by a new Education Service Agency.
“We are pleased that this improvement is being put in place, as more dominant and popular schools have manipulated zoning provisions at the expense of struggling schools nearby,” says Janfrie Wakim, CPAG co-founder and education spokesperson.
Other worthy moves forward include a commitment to expanding full-service schools in disadvantaged areas, strengthening governance and leadership in complex school communities, and adopting a children’s rights framework within schools.
“Schools are central in families lives, and ensuring they resourced adequately to support wider whanau needs is a very positive step,” says Wakim, “as is ensuring that children’s rights are supported and upheld, including making sure their voices are heard.”
CPAG says that the Taskforce’s assessment that competition between schools set up by the Tomorrow’s School model was the driver of educational inequality is only one part of a bigger problem.
“Poverty and intergenerational disadvantage are also significant contributors to educational inequality, along with bias in the education system,” says Wakim. “The fact that schools are having to compete for students rather than simply look at serving the children in their local community means that low-decile schools often lose students to wealthier neighbourhoods.
“More needs to be done to address the educational inequities experienced by far too many children in low-income families in Aotearoa; equity funding for schools has to be improved.”
CPAG is concerned that the movement of students to schools outside of low-income neighbourhoods may result in the false belief among parents that decile ratings are the equivalent to educational quality. This belief impacts school roll numbers, and therefore funding. Schools serving low-income communities are on average smaller and have less money to pay for overhead costs, including property and maintenance. As a result, they have less budget per student for teaching resources and programmes.
In 2018, decile 1-3 schools serving low-income communities had less than 26% of all enrolled students while the highest three deciles (8-10) had over 38% of all students.
“The reality is that the socially- and culturally-divided nature of New Zealand’s suburbs and towns means that educational opportunity is often quite divided as well,” says Wakim.
“We are concerned that, while the proposed changes are worthy, they won’t effectively address all of the educational inequalities,” says Wakim. “Until we see a substantial increase in the amount of operational funding, to enable schools in low-income communities to thrive, they will be struggling to provide for all their students needs, and education outcomes will be impacted.”
The Tomorrow’s Schools Taskforce recommended that equity funding should be increased from a current 3% of operations and staffing budget to 10%.
“This recommendation, if put into practice, will mean significant improvements for children and reduced stress for struggling schools,” adds Wakim.