School resourcing actually sits outside of the taskforce’s terms of reference, but they felt it was important to review the way schools are resourced as this has significant impact on how our education system works.
The biggest issue the taskforce identified is one with which we are all familiar: the overall amount of resourcing for schools is insufficient. The taskforce strongly articulates this view, particularly in regards to equity funding.
“We place on record our view that the amount of equity funding for the education system is inadequate,” reads the report.
The taskforce say our decile-based equity funding system is not fit for purpose and believe there are better ways to allocate equity funding. The taskforce’s favoured alternative is the equity index, which is based on considering measures of disadvantage for individual students. Based on the circumstances of each of their individual students, schools can be assigned with a disadvantage index and provided with extra funding accordingly.
They also recommend that equity resourcing is prioritised to the schools with the most disadvantaged students, is increased to a minimum of 6% of total resourcing and applied across operation, staffing and property.
The final aspect of this is to encourage best practice in the use of equity funding by schools. The taskforce see the Education Hubs as ideally placed for this.
Another interesting recommendation to eventuate from this section is that of evening up the playing field between primary and secondary schools when it comes to staffing entitlement.
The taskforce believes the disparity between primary and secondary is unwarranted, and that it impacts negatively on teachers and learners in primary schools.
There are implications for small schools in the report, too. Ministry of Education data and analysis suggests that our current school funding formula actually disadvantages small schools.
“This is not about resourcing per student. For small schools, the impact of their size on the costs they face is hard to mitigate, even with substantial increases in funding. The ability of the Government to fund small schools adequately is also limited, given that funding is based on roll size.”
The proposed solution here is to close or merge small schools where necessary and possible, using the Education Hubs to drive changes in their local areas.
Is replacing decile-based funding with an equity index the answer?
The taskforce are emphatic that part of the problem with equity funding is that there isn’t enough of it.
NZEI president Lynda Stuart agrees that there isn’t enough in the pot. At the time the risk index was first proposed by the National government, she said underfunding was the main problem that needed addressing.
“Unless schools and early childhood services get a major and immediate funding jolt, any new way to divvy up funding will be a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic,” she said.
“We’ll be glad to see the end of the stigmatising aspects of the decile funding scheme, but the main issue facing schools and early childhood services is a dire lack of funding.”
However, Balmoral School principal Malcolm Milner was less keen.
“Sometimes blunt instruments like the decile funding can be really effective,” he told Stuff.
Milner said low decile schools struggled with disadvantage, while high decile ones needed to fundraise more to provide services they don’t receive Government funding for.
“If schools can’t raise enough additional funding, the pressure will go back on the hubs to provide those services.”
Claire Amos feels strongly that change is needed if the system is to benefit all our learners.
“We quite clearly have a system that is not serving each and every one of our learners and we absolutely need to have some courage to make some changes. You can’t keep on doing the same thing and expect different outcomes for our learners.
“At the end of the day it comes back to, what do we care about? Do we care about our school succeeding at the expense of others? Or do we want the best outcomes for as many people as possible?
“I would much rather see us distribute talent, resources, whatever we need to make sure as many young people as possible get a great education.”
Are we at risk of losing many of our small schools under the proposals?
As Te Tai Tokerau Principals’ Association president Pat Newman noted in a Herald piece last year, many small schools are struggling under the current system.
“We have a huge number of very small schools in very isolated areas, in very low socio-economic communities.
“And what help did we get? Counsellors? No. Mental health facilities to cover needs? No.
“Sufficient staffing to ensure the safety of staff and children from other children? No. Access to absolutely required resources/resourcing? No.”
However is merging or closing the school the best solution?
It would appear some of our small schools could be merged or closed under the recommendations. The report indicates that this will only be where necessary and possible and fits in with the strategic direction of the local education network, as overseen by the Education Hubs.
Small schools often play an important role as the social glue for their communities.
A report by Stuff last year looked at the impact of school closures on communities. Tiraumea, north of Masterton, lost its school in 2012 due to a diminishing roll and the community “virtually disappeared” according to former student, parent and board of trustees chairman Brett Harvey. By contrast Wainuioru School, which was on the brink of closure, turned itself around and now has 93 students. One of the school’s founding members Edward Beetham says the school is vital to the identity and community health of the area.