John Paul College head urges rethink as minister signals decile review is on cards.

The school funding system should be reviewed after enrolment figures showed a growing divide between rich and poor, a leading principal says.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has again signalled a wide-ranging review could be on the cards, and has called the decile system "a blunt instrument".

A Herald analysis of Ministry of Education enrolment information shows the number of Pakeha children attending schools in New Zealand's poorest communities has halved since the mid-1990s.

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Patrick Walsh, principal of Rotorua's John Paul College and executive member of the Secondary Principals' Asso-ciation, said too many parents were avoiding local low-decile schools.

This was done in the misguided belief that a higher decile meant a school provided a better education.

In reality, decile ratings are assigned to schools only for funding purposes - low-decile schools receive more funding.

Read more related stories:
The difference between rich and poor schools: Three ways of looking at decile data
Patrick Walsh: There's a poverty fault line in NZ schools and it's creating an ethnic divide
Interactive: The decile drift - how school rolls have changed according to ethnicity

Decile 1 schools are the 10 per cent of schools with the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities.

Mr Walsh said those schools still needed extra funding, but the current system did not account for the mix of students - mid-decile schools could still have very poor students.

"They need a more precise and accurate measurement."

Ms Parata signalled a review could be planned, and agreed that the decile system was well-intentioned but "a blunt instrument".

"We need a system that supports our schools and boards of trustees to do the best for their students and their achievement outcomes."

Ms Parata's previous comments on a potential change, which were interpreted as favouring a system that would peg money to improved student achievement, caused controversy.

She told the Herald that any changes would be "well thought through, be well foreshadowed, and would require work alongside the profession and sector groups".

Meanwhile, the ministry will contact all state and state-integrated schools in the next 10 days to let them know the outcome of the latest recalculation of decile ratings.

Deputy Secretary for student achievement Dr Graham Stoop said any school could seek a review of its new decile rating.

Three views on decile ratings

Travel but not for decile

Like other students in Titirangi, Millie Clements-Smith, 12, catches a bus across town and back each day for her schooling. But unlike many others, her trip is not to a school with a higher decile than the local option.

Anna Clements chose to enrol her daughter at Ponsonby's St Mary's College, decile 7, rather than Glen Eden Intermediate, a decile 8 school. Her 7-year-old son, Zac, attends the local Kaurilands School. She researched and chose St Mary's because of its values and other aspects including a well-known music programme. Ms Clements said she knew parents who were focused on decile ratings, but they were only a funding mechanism and a "red herring" when it came to school choice. "You need to look beyond deciles and have a look at the school and decide whether it's right for your family and your child."

Would move for school zone

Corne van Niekerk is looking for a fulltime job so she and her partner, Glen Potoi, can afford the extra $200 a week it will cost in rent to move within zone for a high-decile school.

Living in Alfriston, South Auckland, the family want to move to the Gardens near Manurewa or Sunnyhills in time for their 4-year-old son, Kayden, to enrol in a decile 10 school. Ms van Niekerk, a recent communications graduate, said witnessing the behaviour at nearby schools had strengthened their resolve to make the move. In her mind a decile 9 or 10 school would offer a safer environment and ensure her son was surrounded by hard-working, dedicated students. "If the rent is too much, we will still move to an area like Howick ... where it's not as expensive but there are really good schools in the area." Demand for places at the Gardens School, decile 10, is particularly high. In July the Herald reported on a scam in which the owner of a home near the school rented their mailbox to an out-of-zone family who sent their bills to the address to get enrolment documentation.

Ethnic mix more important

Decile rating was not considered by Simon Walker when he chose a school for his daughter Amira, 5.

Mr Walker and his partner settled on nearby Fruitvale Road School, a decile 4 school in West Auckland, after visiting four schools, some that were higher decile. They read the school's Education Review Office (ERO) report, noted favourable national standards results and other factors such as size and the rapport between the principal and staff. Mr Walker said the mix of ethnicities at lower-decile schools was a strength. "In terms of what New Zealand will look like when my daughters are working, I think being in an environment where multiculturalism is valued and not unfamiliar is going to be really helpful."

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