Noted educationist Professor John Hattie says deciles have wrongly been used as a proxy for school quality - a situation that is invidious and wrong.

The decile system was introduced to guide equity funding to schools and in general it has worked very well.

But there are two distinct aspects of deciles that need to be looked at separately.

Firstly, there are clear links between socio-economic status and educational achievement. Schools from areas where parents are less financially resourced do receive greater funding and there is much evidence of the excellence among many of these schools to transform the learning lives of these children.

I have no concerns about the components of how deciles are determined (equivalent household income, parents' occupation, household crowding, parents' educational qualifications, and Income Support payments received by parents). This equity funding seems a basis of a civilised democracy that wants to best help all students in schooling, regardless of the income of their parents.


However deciles have wrongly been used as a proxy for school quality. This is invidious, wrong, and distorts how parents see schools, how teachers and principals see promotion (up the deciles), and how some schools promote themselves.

This misuse of deciles has led to false expectations as news media publish rating tables relative to deciles and parents falsely believe that high decile means high quality schooling (and vice versa for low decile schools).

Worse, the proportion of Maori and Pacific Islander students is higher in the lower decile schools leading to some parents fleeing these schools for higher decile schools. What a sad story this is.

The pervasiveness of the false belief that deciles are an indicator of school success, of teacher quality, of student achievement, and of quality of the school is demeaning to the many teachers and students who excel in these schools.

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A simple solution would be to fund schools on each of the five parts of deciles, and the new suggested measures go some way toward this - provided there is no omnibus rating as it would soon replace the misleading quality uses of deciles.

It is time to be rid of deciles, but please find a way to have equity funding without the stigma that students in poorer areas receive a poor education. It needs to be based on a "basket of measures" and not be a single measure.

John Hattie is laureate professor and director of Melbourne Education Research Institute. He is also author of the book Visible Learning. He was previously Professor of Education at the University of Auckland.
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