It is sad but possibly not surprising that the first tranche of funding for the Government's "communities of learning" scheme has been taken up mainly by schools that were already better off. Sad, because the purpose was to spread the benefits of the best leadership and teaching and in this way reduce the gap between top performing schools and those at the bottom. But perhaps not surprising because, like every education initiative of a National Government, the scheme was greeted with suspicion and derision by the profession and the poorest schools may be the easiest to discourage from participating.
The fact that 36 per cent of the first round of extra funding has gone to decile 10 schools and only 11 per cent to decile 1 schools, "makes a mockery of National's claim they are targeting educational achievement", says Labour's education spokesman, Chris Hipkins. "It is also a slap in the face to the many outstanding teachers flogging their guts out in our poorest communities." It is nothing of the kind; the scheme was, and is, open to all.
The Post-Primary Teachers' Association president, Angela Roberts, blamed "some concern about the ways some of the communities are being allowed to form ... "
There was a danger, she said, that clusters could "reinforce the competitive model and you turn from the bully to the gang". What an extraordinary view of a proposal to cross-fertilise schools by sharing leadership and teachers of recognised quality. This is not "the competitive model"; it is the antithesis. Rather than letting sought-after schools attract pupils and staff from those that are struggling and leave those schools to perish, the hope was that the schools could get together, share their strengths and even out the education system's performance overall. How the leading school could be seen as a "bully" and the cluster its "gang" in this arrangement is a mystery.
The PPTA clearly feels it is the victim of these "gangs", and that may be true in the sense that the scheme challenges the union's nostrum that there is no difference in quality among teachers and no basis for paying some more than others for their performance.
This is not true in any field of work but quality may be harder to define in poorer schools where some pupils require more than teaching. As an unnamed principal of one such school told our reporter, "In a high-decile community you don't have kids coming to school who have witnessed violence in the home, or have not been fed, or have slept in the car ... "
That made it more difficult for lower-decile schools to take on a new educational initiative when the benefits were unknown, he said.
The school with the largest slice of Communities of Learning money is New Zealand's largest school, Rangitoto College. Principal David Lodge believes it follows that it would have the largest number of teachers receiving the extra allowance. But if the funds are simply being allocated proportionately to the number of teachers in each participating school, it suggests the money is paying mainly for interschool staff meetings. If that is so, it promised much more.
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