New Zealand schools will finally see an end to the unpopular decile funding system.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced today that school deciles could be replaced in 2021 or 2022 by an Equity Index that better aligns funding to actual levels of socio-economic disadvantage in our schools.

“Replacing school deciles with an Equity Index will increase the education resourcing going to some of our most disadvantaged students. This increased resourcing is essential to support them to succeed in education, in life, in employment and in their communities,” says Hipkins.

“Getting rid of school deciles will also reduce the stigma associated with them whereby too many of our schools are being judged on their decile rating, rather than what they achieve for their students. This is unfair and needs to stop.”

By contrast, the Equity Index uses information in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data infrastructure (IDI) to estimate the socio-economic factors present in the lives of children at each school, rather than the neighbourhoods in which they live. The methodology has strict measures in place to protect children’s privacy.

The changes are subject to consultation with principals this year, public engagement next year and additional funding in Budget 2020 or 2021 being available to allow the Equity Index to go ahead.

National’s Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says the announcement is little more than political theatre considering National proposed replacing the decile system with a Risk Index in 2017 but Labour voted it down.

“For the Minister to pretend this is a new announcement after he has effectively made schools wait an additional two years is extraordinary,” says Kaye.

“The Government has now claimed the Equity Index is somehow dramatically different. We will need to see the detail of the Equity Index, but it appears to just be a variation of the Risk Index.”

However, Chris Hipkins says there are big differences between the Equity Index and the Risk Index.

“The Equity Index considers the whole school population when assessing the level of disadvantage in a school. The Risk Index, by contrast, tried to ‘predict’ which individual students were most ‘at risk’ of not achieving. This means that the Equity Index is more aligned with research which shows that concentrations of disadvantage in a school matters for the achievement of all students, not just those who are most disadvantaged.

“The Equity Index uses a broad measure of educational success that considers the spectrum of students’ achievement across NCEA. This gives a more nuanced view of the equity challenge at each school than the simple pass/fail measure used in the Risk Index.

“The Equity Index will also allow better comparisons on how schools are doing to achieve equity for particular groups. This will enable us to learn from the schools that are achieving equity and provide additional support for those who need it,” says Hipkins.

Currently, 2.9 percent of resourcing for schools, or around $150 million, is targeted for equity. This means the majority of school funding would be unaffected by any change.

“However, it is clear to the Government that current equity resourcing is not enough for schools to reduce the impacts of socio-economic disadvantage for many of our students. I consider that the Equity Index should be introduced with additional funding to help ensure success for more of these students,” says Hipkins.

NZEI Te Riu Roa has welcomed the Minister’s announcement and agrees that additional funding is critical to ensure the index achieved its purpose of increasing student success.

“The need for extra support for our students is enormous. With current equity, or decile, funding making up just 2.9% of school resourcing, there’s a clear need for greater resources to address the issues of inequity,” says President Lynda Stuart.

Stuart said consultation with the sector would need to be thorough and allow the time needed to get it right.

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