National MP Erica Stanford is backing a private members’ bill to change the school decile system

The widening gap between the have-nots and have-lots requires bridges not diversions.

Erica Stanford, National MP for East Coast Bays, is talking up a members bill that, having been drawn in the ballot for consideration, is likely to create a diversion that could trap kids in an educational cul-de-sac.

The aim of this bill is to sweep aside the current school decile system and replace it with another funding model.

The Child Poverty Action Group is voicing concerns that this would be changing from a relatively simple model to one that will add layers of complication and create an individual focus that may stigmatise the very children it is supposed to be helping.

The proposed change to funding of education appears to have missed – or misunderstood – the value of the decile method and how it currently defines funding for schools.

The decile rating is set to define the context in which a school is located. It is arrived at by examining the socio-economic environmental in which the children attending that school are living.

This is critical – there is robust research that shows the clear links between disadvantage and educational outcomes.

The areas found to be low decile get more funding for their schools to tackle the inequities that exist in those communities to diminish the effect they can have on a child’s education.

Decile ratings are not a measure of the quality of education at a particular school but indicate those schools are in low socio-economic areas needing extra funding to counter balance the negatives of disadvantage against the ability of education to tilt kids towards outcomes that will allow them to reach their potential.

Quality is assessed regularly by the Education Review Office and is not defined by a decile number.

The proposed bill appears to be muddling the idea that a decile definition sticks like a stigma to pupils when its actual function is the opposite. Decile rating ensuring inequalities are taken into account to assist schools.

But the bill is based on what appears to be an individual-funded concept that targets risk kids, the ones that meet a criteria formula for poor outcomes.

While this may bring more funding to the highest risk children, it is based in an assumption that this will “fix” access to education for the most disadvantaged. However, it will, in fact, be ghetto-ising those children even further by labelling them.

This bill is missing – perhaps deliberately – the powerful connection between socio-economic factors and the wellbeing of children.

Poor housing, high rents, low wages, unemployment, discrimination, constant moving to find new options … all take a heavy toll on the educational outcomes of children and all of these are not the responsibility of schools or health services.

They are the responsibility of of politicians. Schools and health have little influence over those aspects of government policy that determine the environment in which children will grow up.

This is not to diminish the power of communities to find their own resources. A Maori colleague noted the other day that some sections of the community have given up on government – tired of waiting for moves that will assist them to address inequalities, they are developing their own responses.

This is powerful stuff and will make a difference but can only achieve local influence. What is needed are consistent child-focused government policies that prevent kids from falling through the ever-widening gap creating by big scale inequalities.

Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker – feedback: tgs@inspire.net.nz

Source: NZ Herald

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