Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

High-decile schools clean up first batch of teaching funds

Children in some of the nation's poorest communities missed out on the first batch of funding from the Government's flagship education initiative, new data reveals.

The money allocated to teachers through the Communities of Learning scheme has largely gone to those at the wealthiest schools, with Auckland's Rangitoto College and Epsom Girls Grammar receiving the most, information from the Ministry of Education shows. That's despite the programme being aimed at closing the gap between top-performing students and those at the bottom.

The schools say this is simply because of their large student roll - bigger schools are allocated more funded teachers. However, the data doesn't always bear this out.

Under the Government's policy called Investing in Educational Success, Communities of Learning encourages schools to cluster together in groups of about 10. They either join with schools close by or with those with which they share similar beliefs or values.

The schools share information, expertise and ideas, and create a "pathway" for students from primary through to secondary. Within these communities, teachers can be paid more to do extra work, and share their specialist knowledge or teaching methods, to boost student performance.

The March data shows Auckland school Rangitoto College, a decile 10 school, had the largest number of teachers receiving the pay boost - with 19 teachers.

All schools in its group - the Mid Bays cluster - are decile 10, except for one decile eight school.

Epsom Girls Grammar had the second highest number of teachers getting extra pay - 15.

Within its cluster, the Auckland Central Community of Learning, all the schools are decile seven or above.

The figures, dated March this year, show the schools funded under the scheme - 56 across nine Communities of Learning. There are now 108 Communities of Learning operating throughout New Zealand, covering 1006 schools.

Of the 174 teachers who had received pay boosts through the scheme in the March figures, 84 worked at decile nine and 10 schools.

In comparison, only five teachers across decile one, two and three schools received the same extra funding.

"This makes a mockery of National's claim they are targeting educational disadvantage," Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said. "It's also a slap in the face to the many outstanding teachers flogging their guts out in our poorest communities."

The figures, requested by Mr Hipkins and provided to the Herald, show 31.6 per cent of the extra funding for these specialist teachers went to decile 10 schools, while only 1.1 per cent went to decile one schools.

Low decile schools often struggled to recruit teachers, Mr Hipkins said, so "if you really want to lift student achievement you'd [put more money into] low decile schools so that they can attract the best possible teachers rather than the other way around".

Angela Roberts, president of the Post-Primary Teachers Association (PPTA), said there was "some concern about the ways some of the communities are being allowed to form", particularly the ones - such as faith-based clusters - which have formed around "traditional" transition routes from primary to secondary schools.

The was a danger such clusters could "reinforce the competitive model and you turn from being the bully to the gang", she said, and risked ignoring the "wider community of students" in the area.

It was not surprising that more high decile teachers were represented in the figures, she said, because those schools were often "the best equipped to ... engage" quickly when a new initiative is launched.

"But the further you've gone down the track there will be more lower decile schools hooking in."

One principal, who did not want to be named, said it was difficult for lower decile schools to get on board with a new initiative when it was unclear whether the benefits would outweigh the risk.

"There's been something like 100 new initiatives in the last 15 years to raise student achievement and none of them have worked," he said.

"Even if you're not cynical by this point, you're thinking, 'Do I want to put my best people in a theoretical programme, which I'm not sure what the results are going to be, when they could be doing something I know [will] give me a benefit tomorrow?'"

It was something all schools had to juggle, he said, but one that likely affected low decile schools more.

"When you're in a high decile community ... you don't have kids coming to school who have just witnessed violence in the home, or have not been fed, or who've slept in the car etc ... so you can devote more time to something lovely and new like Communities of Learning."

Both Rangitoto College and Epsom Girls said their higher allocation of teachers was simply about numbers.

David Hodge, Rangitoto College principal, said the number of funded teachers was "based on a formula" set down by the Ministry.

"The bigger the school, the more staffing allocated to it," he said.

"Rangitoto College, being the biggest school in Australasia, gets the biggest allocation because it has the biggest roll."

Jill Farquharson, principal of Auckland Normal Intermediate School and head of the Auckland Central Community of Learning which Epsom Girls is part of, also said it was "formula driven".

"[It's not about deciles]. You could have a big secondary school in a low decile and they'll have more."

However, there are schools on the list with rolls above 400 with the same number of in-school allocated teachers as schools with a roll of just 40. And a school with more than 1800 pupils had fewer in-school teachers than a school with a roll of 900.

In a letter accompanying the release of the data, Education Minister Hekia Parata said recruitment to Community of Learning roles was still in progress, with only a proportion of the positions formally filled.

The data reflected the preliminary nature of the scheme, she said, but added that "larger schools will have a greater allocation of in-school teacher roles".

Katrina Casey, head of sector enablement and support at the Ministry of Education, said it was "misleading to suggest there is any imbalance in the way funding is allocated" under IES.

Of the 1006 schools now signed up to the COL scheme, 265 schools are in the high decile bracket of eight to 10, while 294 are decile one to three.

"Higher decile schools signed up in higher numbers at the start of the initiative than lower decile schools, so they are also represented more heavily in the first allocations of funding under the initiative," she said.

"That will change."

The Government has pledged $359 million to IES over the first four years, and $155 million a year after that.

Scheme sparks incredible culture change: teacher

Teachers Ben Griffiths, Alicia England and Clara Kim from Auckland Normal Intermediate school. Photo / Patrice Dougan
Teachers Ben Griffiths, Alicia England and Clara Kim from Auckland Normal Intermediate school. Photo / Patrice Dougan

Three of Auckland Normal Intermediate's teachers are quite excited. Clara Kim, Alicia England and Ben Griffiths have just shown a group of Epsom Girls Grammar teachers around their school and will go on a a reciprocal trip the following day.

"We want to see how can we build that relationship between all the education sectors and share what we're doing, share our expertise," said Year 8 teacher Ms Kim. "We've got teachers who've come from Epsom Girls and they can share with us ... some things that they do, so we can teach it here."

The trio are leading the Community of Learning initiative in their school, and say they've already seen a big culture change in the first six months.

"The culture of the school's improved incredibly," Mr Griffiths said.

It was much more open, with teachers sharing ideas, resources, and information, he said. It had also facilitated better communication between teachers, and between teachers and parents.

They started by agreeing on five achievement goals among the cluster - including two that relate to improving literacy and maths among primary school children, with Auckland Normal Intermediate focusing on Maori and Pasifika kids.

"It's that whole emphasis that's being thrown around in the media at the moment of equity over equality," Mr Griffiths said. "And from a student's perspective as well, they know that they're not special or anything, we're actually here to help them out and that in turn will lift the tail, which in turn will then lift the rest of the students.

"It's not that we're investing everything into one group - by us working with these students we're refining our practice, and in turn it's making us better teachers in the classroom."

- NZ Herald

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