School funding was well overdue for a new way of thinking, but will this new way rate a pass mark?
Education Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed yesterday the Cabinet has "agreed to the in-principle replacement of deciles with an Equity Index" - a new system allocating more funds for children with risk factors such as their parents being on benefits.
Deciles are supposedly a measure of the socio-economic position of a school's wider community relative to other schools throughout the country.
As the Ministry of Education website explains, decile 1 schools are the 10 per cent of schools with the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities, whereas decile 10 schools are the 10 per cent of schools with the lowest proportion of these students.
"A school's decile does not indicate the overall socio-economic mix of the school or reflect the quality of education the school provides," the ministry points out.
New systems aren't always automatically better - most schools will remember the introduction of Novopay.
Deciles were devised to apportion funding to state and state-integrated schools to enable them to overcome barriers to learning for students from lower socio-economic communities. The lower the school's decile, the more funding they received.
Problem is, schools and their boards have lobbied to change or keep their decile ratings, according to their priorities. For instance, a high decile school may want to keep the rating, despite its community falling in socio-economic fortunes, as a high rating is perceived by some as meaning it's a "better" school.
Most politicians of every hue have agreed the decile system was less than optimum.
National Government Education Minister Hekia Parata kick-started the change in 2016 after describing the decile method as a blunt instrument.
The new the Equity Index, however, comes with what looks to be an extraordinary level of bureaucracy.
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The index will be calculated by considering each enrolled child by multiple factors, including: Proportion of time the child has been supported by benefits since birth; whether the student has a Child, Youth and Family (Oranga Tamariki) notification; the mother's age at child's birth; the father's offending and sentence history; ethnicity; any Youth Justice referrals; mother's and father's average earned income over previous five years; and school transience.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins front-footing obvious concerns around schools holding this much private information. "The methodology has strict measures in place to protect children's privacy," he said.
It's recommended the amount of funding from the decile system should double from 3 per cent of school funding to 6 per cent under the Equity Index. If implemented, this will mean more schools would be taking an even keener interest in how the index can work for them.
New systems aren't always automatically better - most schools will remember the introduction of Novopay. Finding out whether the Equity Index is a sharper instrument than deciles will have to wait until after it has been bedded in, currently estimated to be introduced in 2021 or 2022.
There is plenty at stake, none more so than the future of our children.