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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Funding model doesn't add up

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Hekia Parata's idea to link funding to results is shortsighted. Photo / Mark Taylor
Hekia Parata's idea to link funding to results is shortsighted. Photo / Mark Taylor

The National Government is so loved by its people that we are unlikely to see a more popular administration until the Apocalypse, when Christ comes trailing clouds of glory to install his thousand-year government on Earth (Revelation 11.15).

And even He's likely to face unflattering comparisons to John Key and his lot.

Some may see this as giving the Government licence in a third - and almost inevitably final - term to start throwing their weight around a bit and bring in a few outre measures.

Which brings us to the Minister of Education and the idea of performance funding for schools - linking the supply of money to the results achieved.

We must be cautious in discussing this as it can be hard to know what Hekia Parata is saying. She is a terrible communicator.

I'm sure that whenever someone asks her whether she'd like red or white she responds by welcoming the opportunity to have that discussion.

It must be a nightmare getting her to the movies.

So when it comes to her portfolio, she would like to look at options. She's all about being creative. But performance funding isn't thinking outside the square. It's thinking outside geometry.

The minister refused in an interview with this newspaper to rule out changing the decile-based funding system and, on radio on Monday, she would not answer when asked whether she supported performance funding.

Specifically, when asked about working out which schools would get more money the minister told the Herald on Sunday, "You've got to work out which school is delivering achievement".

She did not, as you might expect, then go on to say "And, of course, if they're doing well as they are, we can afford to target money more directly at schools that obviously need help".

The possibility remains therefore that a school whose students are not achieving relative to others will have resources taken away from them.

To understand this, you have to try to think like the Government. It applies a commercial model to everything: schools are just a business like any other.

And to invest in a business that's doing badly is folly. The smart money goes to businesses that are making a profit. Which is only true up to a point. Some businesses that are doing badly can benefit from a cash injection to get them working efficiently.

And schools - like hospitals - are in the business of producing resources. Their products are healthy, educated people who will in turn go on to give added value to their communities.

Some of the criticism of Parata's intentions - whatever they are - has been dismissed as a case of raising the third-term bogey to scare the voters. I did it myself in the first paragraph. But this is easily dealt with - all she has to do is clearly rule out the possibility that she will embark on this demented course.

Saying that we will continue with decile funding "until we have a system that is better" does not do that.

By all means promise to improve a system where it is faulty. But with decile funding it is not necessarily the principle that is the problem. It may be "a blunt instrument", but blunt instruments have their place. It's a poor toolbox that doesn't contain a hammer.

To get back to Jesus. He taught us (Luke 15: 1-7) that it is the lost sheep, the decile-one animals in the flock, if you like, that the shepherd will put himself out to save. Our education resources should go where they are needed - not where they will make us look good on international rankings.

- Herald on Sunday

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