The current decile system could be scrapped if a proposal to fund schools according to students' "risk of failure" goes ahead. Allan Vester of the Secondary Principals’ Council, responds.

The basis of the Government's proposed changes to the decile system seems to be that the more students with high needs, the more resources there needs to be.

While that is also the aim of the current decile system, the model which has been proposed looks to more accurately link resources to identified need.

I am impressed that so much work has gone into finding which demographic and lifestyle factors contribute to (or at least better predict) underachievement, and it's positive to see that they're attempting to match support more closely to actual students. What's not clear is if the current proposal is simply redistributing the existing pot - which will create winners and losers - or are there more funds to distribute?

There have been concerns expressed about the danger of stigmatizing students and families, with potential flow-on effects to schools, but in reality there is absolutely no need for the information to be used outside the team doing the funding calculations. I would be confident that any model that provides additional funding need not identify or tag students.

The Minister and sectors groups all agree that the decile system provides a label that is misused and removing that label would make it more difficult for outside groups and organisations, such as real estate, to use what is a funding system for other unrelated purposes.

From what I have seen there is no reference to staffing. Perhaps that is in another paper. I believe to really address the underachievement problem, the focus should go on the number and quality of teachers in schools with lots of at-risk students.

We need to get great teachers to spend at least part of their career at the schools with the students who need them the most. You could, for example, make access to senior positions quicker if a teacher has spent a certain number of years in a school with lots of at-risk students - a bit like doing a defensive drivers course to speed up the licence process.

If schools did receive extra staff as part of the formula, the Government could certainly expect to see those used in a way that addressed the needs of students at risk of under achieving.

The Secondary Principals' Council, along with other sector groups, are encouraged by the Minister's willingness to look at the wider funding model. But we want to be sure it ends up being more than a simple re-branding exercise.

It's my view that New Zealand's long tail of educational underachievement will require a multi-faceted approach and any funding changes need to be significant to have any realistic chance of really making a difference.

Allan Vester is chair of the Secondary Principals' Council.
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