A few months ago figures emerged from the Ministry of Education showing that the number of Pakeha pupils in low decile schools had halved since 2000. Rather than discuss the real or perceived problems of these schools, the immediate response from the profession was to suggest that decile ratings be no longer made public. Now the Education Review Office has decided to exclude them from its reports.
Problems are seldom solved by suppressing information. The review office - which is supposed to keep parents and the public well informed on the performance of every school - thinks deciles have been misunderstood. Chief review officer Graham Stoop said, "The decile rating system is a mechanism used by the Ministry of Education to make funding available to schools. Too often it is seen as a rating of the quality of the education which a school provides and this is simply not correct."
That statement is typical of the obfuscation the ERO employs in its individual school reports. The decile rating is a mechanism for a certain type of funding - additional grants based on the relative poverty of the school's community. Parents do not misunderstand this, they understand very well that poverty is an educational disadvantage. Educationists are forever telling them so.
The problem for low decile schools is that too many concerned parents are not convinced additional grants can make much difference. If the parents are wrong the solution is in the hands of the ERO. If it can truthfully and convincingly explain how the school is using its decile funding to advantage, the faith of those parents might be restored. But far from attempting this, the ERO plans to erase any reference to decile ratings.
"We have decided that decile has no part to play in our reports," said Dr Stoop. This decision has astonished the New Zealand Educational Institute, which represents primary school teachers. "Poverty, ill-health and poor housing have significant impacts on whether children are ready and able to learn," said NZEI president Ian Leckie, "ERO cannot pretend these do not affect student achievement and therefore whether a school is perceived as effective or not."
Parents, of course, do not need to know a school's decile rating in order to make a fairly accurate assessment of the average wealth of its neighbourhood. Parents were making these assessments long before they were introduced to "deciles" by education policy-makers in the 1990s. If they wish to check a school's decile rating today there are many places they might find it besides an ERO report.
This decision has done much more harm to the ERO's credibility than to public information. The office was set up to serve the interests of parents and the public, not to keep information from them. It was the profession's answer to the consumer information that a more competitive state education system would have obliged schools to provide.
Announcing the decile decision, Dr Stoop might as well have admitted the Education Review Office does not disclose everything it discovers about a school. It is quite willing to withhold information it thinks parents do not need or will use for an unintended purpose. It has put the interests of schools and the system ahead of those of individual parents and pupils.
Its attempt to suppress decile information is in line with the profession's resistance to national standards, league tables and any other data that might disturb its determined pretence that all schools are equally effective. People are not fools, solutions start when they are trusted with the truth.