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Principals and the Green Party are calling for a review of the Tomorrow's Schools model which they say has caused secondary schools to adjust school zones and cherry-pick students.
Concern has mounted after a report by a visiting United States scholar found most Auckland secondary schools were zone-fixing - intentionally skewing their enrolment zones to improve their decile rating.
Principals say zone-fixing is nothing new and competition between schools has grown since the Tomorrow's Schools model was introduced under David Lange in 1989.
Last year Associate Professor Christopher Lubienski of the University of Illinois spoke to 49 Auckland high schools for his research on organisational behaviour and school admissions.
Of the schools involved, 36 were found to have changed their zones so more affluent neighbourhoods or the odd "rich" street were included. Poorer areas were left out.
He told the Herald yesterday that schools were surprisingly open about what they did.
"One principal actually said the quote that she was 97 per cent honest [about the zoning process]."
Professor Lubienski said there were several cases where principals spoke about manipulating the zoning system, including one school that had excluded from an out-of-zone ballot several students who shared the same last name and were obviously from a minority group.
"Schools are very aware that they have to appeal to a particular clientele," he said.
Yesterday school principals were divided about the findings.
Mt Albert Grammar principal Dale Burden said he was offended by Professor Lubienski's research.
"He's implying that people would want to do that and that's a slur on the integrity of Auckland principals which I think is out of order quite frankly," Mr Burden said.
"I know Auckland principals very well and I don't know of anyone who would deliberately do that."
Mr Burden said the zoning system was very much a transparent one, so trying to manipulate your zone for particular reasons would not go unnoticed.
"It would be pretty obvious if you were trying to be selective. You couldn't get away with it."
Northcote College acting principal Karen Russell said the school was definitely "not guilty" of zone-fixing.
She said the school had never changed its zone since zoning began and was unaware of the practice happening at other schools.
Other school leaders, however, backed the research findings, saying manipulating of school zones was not unheard of.
Edgewater College principal Allan Vester acknowledged that those within the sector were questioning the research. But it was worth taking seriously, he said.
"I am not sure why people would question the quality of the research as it was done by an academic on a Fulbright scholarship.
"There are reasons why people might want to question it ... if it is happening - and there has certainly been lots of conjecture that it is - it's not something that people want to admit since it would seem to bend the rules."
Rangitoto College principal David Hodge, who has taught all over Auckland, said he remembered one school he was at always complaining about a neighbouring school's home-zone.
"Their zone was shaped like a comet. You had all the surrounding neighbourhood included and then this one big bit going to the side, where it was seen as a richer part of [the suburb]," he said.
"We were always talking about it."
Mr Vester, who is also the chairman of the Secondary Principals' Council, noted that it would be difficult to manipulate a zone, given the process was very much under the eye of the Ministry of Education.
But unusual boundaries did slip through, Mr Vester said, such as "a street with lots of state housing on a school's boundary not being included in the zone, yet more affluent areas some distance away being included".
The Green Party is now calling for a review of Tomorrow's Schools.
"We feel there are some major issues with Tomorrow's Schools," said the party's education spokeswoman, Catherine Delahunty.
"We want to see a review that actually talks to the education sector."