By: Simon Collins
High school teachers propose paying schools only for students living within their zones – a move that would axe funding for more than half of all current students at six Auckland secondary schools.
The proposal, in a paper prepared for debate at the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) annual conference starting on October 2, is aimed at ending destructive competition that has seen thousands of students flee from low-decile to high-decile schools over the past 30 years.
The paper proposes grouping schools in each region to encourage co-operation rather than competition.
“Funding schools for the number of students they enrol has encouraged schools to compete,” it says
“When schools compete, they tout for students. Schools try to outperform competing schools through advertising, open nights, staff, courses and facilities.
“From the outside, this could seem like a good thing – keeping schools ‘on their toes’.
“In reality, it adds to the workload of staff, schools manipulate results to make themselves look better than they really are, and embark on building projects that make the school look modern or state-of-the art.”
The paper says zoning should be tightened so that most students attend their local schools.
“It is time to change the funding arrangement for schools so that they are only funded for students in their catchment, or so all adhere to zoning rules,” it says.
The proposal feeds into a wide-ranging review of the competitive school system known as Tomorrow’s Schools. A taskforce led by former Rosehill College principal Bali Haque is due to report on proposed changes by November 9.
Haque asked in a recent article: “School competition is encouraged but what happens to children in schools which are not “winners”? And how can these schools be supported, perhaps by other schools, when the system is driving them to compete with each other?”
PPTA president Jack Boyle said PPTA favoured a “network” system where families would still be offered the choice of different kinds of schools within a regional “hub”.
“It might well be that across a geographical location you can choose a boys’ school, a girls’ school, a co-ed school, an integrated school, a kura, and those are your choice for that hub,” he said.
“You can manage a network so you don’t have kiddies learning in hallways in some schools, and others where they are a ghost town.”
The proposal would imply massive restructuring in areas with the most intense competition. In Auckland, 18,053 students, or 28 per cent of all students at state secondary schools that have zones, came from out of zone in March this year.
Six Auckland state secondary schools draw more than half their students from outside their zones: Auckland Girls Grammar, Avondale College, Edgewater College, Onehunga High School, and Westlake Girls and Boys High Schools.
Avondale College principal Brent Lewis slammed the proposal as “shallow thinking” because it did not take account of changing demographics which had reduced high-school-age students in Avondale’s zone in recent years, leaving it with surplus capacity.
“They are suggesting that schools with surplus capacity would be punished by having their funding per pupil diminished on average,” he said.
Onehunga High principal Deidre Shea said any such change would need to be phased in.
She said most of her 53 per cent of students coming in from out of zone came from South Auckland, but the school was already reviewing those numbers because of a Ministry of Education decision to rebuild the school. The ministry already does not fund buildings for out-of-zone students, although it does provide staffing and operational funding based on total rolls.
“We have had the capacity to cater for out-of-zone students. That is going to change with our rebuild,” she said.
Westlake Boys High School headmaster David Ferguson said the North Shore already represented a network of schools where families could choose single-sex, co-ed, integrated or private schools.
Auckland Grammar School principal Tim O’Connor said the current model worked well for 15 out of 16 schools, noting that the paper found that one of every 16 schools had been subjected to a government intervention in the past three years.
“If 15 out of 16 schools are operating well under a Tomorrow’s Schools model, you would see that as a highly successful model, wouldn’t you?” he said.
But nationally, families have used school choice to choose higher-decile schools.
Across the country, the rolls of schools in the poorest 30 per cent of neighbourhoods have dropped from 187,379 in 1996 to 179,559 last year, while the rolls in the richest three deciles have ballooned from 199,341 to 296,650.
Pakuranga College principal Mike Williams, who leads the Secondary Principals’ Association, said both the former National Government, with its “communities of learning”, and the current Labour-led Government wanted schools to compete less and co-operate more.
“The gap is widening between the haves and the have-nots, so something does need to change,” he said.
“Obviously competition is one of the key things they are looking at. But hand in hand with that is parental choice, which is fundamental.
“I think if there was no parental choice at all, there would be a big backlash from the community.”
Auckland’s out-of-zone top 10
Out-of-zoners’ per cent of roll
1.Auckland Girls Grammar 83.5%
2.Avondale College 62.4%
3.Edgewater College 56.7%
4.Onehunga High 52.7%
5.Westlake Girls High 51.3%
6.Westlake Boys High 50.8%
7.Rangitoto College 49.1%
8.Mt Roskill Grammar 42.7%
9.Selwyn College 40.3%
10.Albany Senior High 39.9%
Source: Ministry of Education data for March 2018
Source: NZ Herald