New Zealand's Ministry of Education has a mission statement that they include in all formal communications: "We shape an education system that delivers equitable and excellent outcomes".
Unfortunately for the children, families and communities of our country it is hard to imagine a statement that is further from the truth.
During the past month, I have been able to extract and process a data set that contains significant indicators for every high school, every decile, every school type (private, integrated, state) and every region and electorate.
Having been in education for some length of time I thought I might know the state of play. I am stunned and dismayed at where our system has languished to.
There is clear disadvantage for many and a lack of impetus to fix things. The trend remains downwards.
University entrance is the highest school qualification available for most students.
I would argue that, with good guidance, dedication by students and support for them - that it is not a high bar. It involves getting through to Level 3 NCEA courses (normally at Year 13) and achieving 14 credits in each of three subjects deemed "accredited" by New Zealand's universities. The subject list is broad and 14 credits is a moderate amount.
By no means does everyone need to go to university but the qualification indicates a higher standard and can lead into other tertiary study and trades as well as indicating to employers a solid level of effort and ability.
We have an education system funded by taxpayers with the long-established aim of
equality of opportunity regardless of ethnicity, gender, levels of wealth or geography. Some of these aspects, of course, create a different background and bring significant pressures that our education system is, theoretically, designed to overcome.
The purpose being that we have well educated young adults leaving our high schools and equitably accessing further study and/or employment opportunities.
Two statistics show just how badly we are failing.
Firstly, attendance by decile. The Ministry of Education has the soft "full-attendance" target of nine days in 10 for a student. In 2020 just 35 per cent of decile 1 students reached that goal. For the wealthier, decile 10, students it was 70 per cent.
Students in decile 1-3 high schools in New Zealand have a third less opportunity to learn
compared to students in the top 3 deciles.
The average full attendance at decile 1-3 is 41 per cent and in the top three deciles 66 per cent.
The pattern has got worse over the past three years. Full attendance is down (3 per cent) from 2018-2020 for deciles 1-3 students, and up 3 per cent for students in decile 8-10 schools.
You could, of course, argue that non-attendance is the fault of the child but the counter argument is contained in that assertion. They are children/young people – it is a function of parents, schools and the ministry to see they are attending and making schools places where they see the point of and want to be.
In terms of outcomes – I go back to the ministry's mission statement. Eighty-four per cent of school leavers from the Epsom electorate have University Entrance and, with it, a huge advantage as they journey into early adulthood.
If they go to university – as approximately 70 per cent do - on average, they will earn
$1,500,000 more than those who don't.
Twenty minutes down the Southern Motorway is the electorate of Manurewa. Just 20 per cent of school leavers from here have University Entrance and there are high schools in the area where less than 5 per cent of students go into degree level study.
This is the New Zealand today that our young people are growing up in, and very little is being done to improve things. Twenty minutes by car between aspiration and desperation.
There needs to be another form of groundswell protest. This time from all parents of students who deserve the best a 21st Century schooling system should be able to offer.
• Alwyn Poole is on the Villa Education Trust and operates Innovative Education Consultants.