Allison is a digital reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times

Tauranga's mixed reaction to school funding proposal

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Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell is hesitant of the proposal to scrap the school decile system.
Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell is hesitant of the proposal to scrap the school decile system.

The Ministry of Education's radical plan to scrap the decile school rating system has been greeted with a mixed response from Bay principals and social workers.

The Ministry's proposal, which is in its early stages, would see schools receiving funding based on students' risk of educational failure determined by four socio-economic factors.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said the four criteria used to assess students were relevant but needed to be widened to include other factors.

Mr Randell said students from decile 10 backgrounds could still have extreme learning difficulties, while children from struggling families could have a great education ethos. The new funding system needed to address the individual learning needs of students.

"I don't have a magic formula. Decile is not the best way, but until we come up with a better system that's what we're stuck with."

Mount Maunganui College principal Russell Gordon said if the four criteria were the key predictors of poor life outcomes then it made sense to target those areas to improve outcomes for students.

"But as a principal, I have to be mindful that I have to balance our school budget and we get funding determined by our decile rating.

"So if our budget bottom line was negatively impacted we would have to do a considerable rethink of how we fund or run particular programmes."

Mr Gordon said there could be unintended consequences, citing the example of students with ADHD or dyslexia who might not come under the new criteria. "If a proportion of our students don't meet the new four criteria we could receive less than we do as a decile six school, leading to the potential that we couldn't meet those students' needs that don't receive funding adequately."

Mr Gordon did not believe the proposal had the potential to stigmatise children, saying "schools would never make the mistake of singling out students".

He said removing the decile label could be beneficial, because when schools were given a decile-based label by the community, students wore that badge - whether positive or negative.

President of Western Bay of Plenty Principals Association and Kaimai School principal Dane Robertson said he was still waiting on the ministry to expand on the details of the proposal.

"From what has been described so far, which is still in its infancy, it appears to be targeting the right children. That is, children who, through no fault of their own, are facing situations that could continue a negative social cycle."

However, he questioned if allocating money to schools to address these complex issues was the best way of spending money, saying these social issues originated outside the school.

Gate Pa School principal Richard Inder said caution was needed. "Before we throw the baby out with the bath water we want to see what this new system entails."

Homes of Hope director Hilary Price said the proposal had a lot of promise.

"The conversation has clearly just started but it's worthy of investigation.

"It would allow more accurate targeting of funding to vulnerable children."

Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust Social Services director Tommy Wilson said the current decile system was "divisive" and "dumb".

"Education is the answer to most of the problems we deal with here and if you start looking after the kids at that age, you don't pick them up when they end up coming here."

He said the government initiative was to be applauded.

New funding system?

* Schools would be paid more for having students who fit four risk criteria: a parent who had been to prison; if they or a sibling had suffered child abuse; if their family had depended on a benefit for a prolonged period; or if the child's mother had no formal qualifications.

* Children would only need to meet one risk factor to qualify for funding, and if there was a concentration of at-risk students the school would receive extra cash worked out by a formula.

* It is thought the funding would cover about one-third of all children. It would not affect the number of teachers per school.

Source: NZME

- Bay of Plenty Times

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