Educators from 93% of schools and 65% of kindergartens have voted 99% in favour of resolutions that oppose bulk funding and call for their meaningful engagement in the development of any new funding measures.
“It is clear that ‘global funding’ would be a mask for underfunding,” NZEI president, and principal, Louise Green, told members.
“Bulk funding would shift the responsibility from government to adequately fund education. Schools would have to make the painful decisions on what to cut.”
In an historic turn, the PPTA and NZEI combined forces to address the threat to children’s learning posed by the Education Funding Review.
PPTA present Angela Roberts told members that, under bulk funding, a prudent principal would never again make a permanent appointment because of the financial risk if funding was cut or rolls dropped. ECE and support staff members told their primary and secondary colleagues what it was like to live with bulkfunding bulkfunding – “our jobs and hours are the first to go”, “our funding has been cut”.
This term, the Better Learning campaign will include school-gate, community engagement with a bus tour in the major centres.
The good news
Half-way through the meetings, educators received the good news that the government’s own “advisory” group had recommended against “global funding”. The advisory group of 18 sector leaders, including the NZEI and PPTA presidents, had been stepped through the ministry’s seven proposals.
The Cabinet will make a decision on the direction of the reforms in October. But even if bulk-funding gets the thumbs down, there are fishhooks in the remaining proposals. Another proposal is for a move to per student funding. This would drive increased competition between schools – at a time when government says it is trying to foster greater collaboration. Per-student funding would be split between staffing and operational funding, allowing the potential for some of the pitfalls of bulk-funding to be introduced by stealth.
“We need to stay strong and active,” says Green. “The scale of the reforms being proposed is the biggest in decades. We may win some battles but the war will go on.”
Educators have received solid support from the Green, Labour and New Zealand First political parties.
Enough flexibility already
But MPs from the National Party’s support partner, the Māori Party, have spoken in favour of the bulk-funding, citing “flexibility”. Ripeka Lessels, tumuaki at Kura a Iwi Te Whata Tau o Putauaki in Kawerau, says there is already enough flexibility to employ people with specialist skills like kapahaka and mau taiaha.
“We rely on these people, but we are doing this now, without global funding. The whole idea of pooling together operations funding and teachers’ salaries is a nightmare for me as a principal. Our board will have to work with what they haven’t worked with before, and that’s teacher salaries. At the end of the day, the ability I have to buy fewer staff to pay for other things – you open that up with global funding.”
She saw the bulk-funding idea as being driven by the government, and not having come from whānau, iwi or the Māori education sector. “If funding decreases, then I start losing staff, and it’s always my support staff that go first, who suffer. And teaching staff would have to pick that up.
“I can’t see any benefits. When (the Minister) talks about flexibility, I can’t see that. I run a tight ship as it is, it would be like getting blood out of a stone (to tighten further).” Te Runanganui o Ngā Kura Kaupapa has not yet formed a position.
Just look at England!
To see just how bad the kinds of reforms being proposed can be – just look to England.
In the last year, some 50,000 teachers have left the profession. 53% of teachers are thinking of quitting in the next two years and 40% of new teachers leave in their first year, according to recent UK surveys. Three out of four districts have a teacher shortage.
A prime cause of the exodus has been relentless, often ideological, reforms that have opened the door to unqualified teachers, lower salaries and increased class sizes. Bulk- funding has gone hand-in-hand with per pupil funding and increasingly high-stakes student testing and school inspections.
“They are certainly interesting times in education here in the English system,” says Shelley Duffy, a former New Zealand principal, and now a Principal Lead Adviser in London. “There is a lot of good practice still. However this comes down to the courage and confidence – in my view – of school leadership in staying true to their principles and challenging what they know is not educationally sound or in the best interests of the children.
“There are, however, also those who, perhaps with an inspection pending, are tempted to ‘play the game’ and hot house outcome, that is, the test results, which is perhaps an indication of just how high stakes these measures are over here.
“A school’s reputation may be won or lost on their latest Ofsted grading. Parents often ‘shop online’ when researching which school to enrol their child in and with school funding so heavily reliant upon pupil numbers, an inspection outcome often has long lasting implications, not the least of which may come down to the actual viability of a school.”
Duffy says this all contributes to educators becoming disillusioned and leaving the profession.
In New Zealand, the new Education (Update) Amendment Bill opens the door for high-stakes goals to be introduced through a statement of National Education and Learning Priorities. A law change has also been slipped through that allows unqualified trainees to be in sole charge of classes.
In England this year, an erroneously named “Fairer Funding Formula” will see winner and loser schools created by changes to the per student funding. Duffy says, “Instead of bringing the lower funded schools up to that of the highest – or even to the current national average – it will act by cutting the higher per pupil rates down to the lowest.”
A New Zealand report by economic consultants Sapere, commissioned for the Funding Review, identified 11 “frontier schools” that could achieve a given performance benchmark for the least cost among their peer group of schools.
For medium sized primary schools, the level of funding for these frontier schools was around $5300-$5800 per student – “or about 11-21% less than the average level of funding for all schools in their segment”.
New Zealand educational researchers, spoken to by EA, say reforms in England have meant:
- no improvement in the quality of teaching and learning
- life becoming really complicated for principals
- a staffing exodus
- an end to collective agreements
- and no changes in the gaps caused by socio-economic disadvantage.
Under the proposed New Zealand reforms, decile funding would go – along with all the other elements of the complex formula that determines school funding, including the special education grant.
Deciles would be replaced by per student funding, plus extra targeted funding to “at-risk” students. This has been signalled with the current freeze on operational grants to schools. Instead of a 1 percent increase this year in ops grant funding, the money was targeted to children in schools who meet criteria based on being in a household that has been reliant on benefits.
Already this has created winner and loser schools – with both high and low decile schools reporting they have missed out. Schools are not told who the “targeted” students are. And social scientists say the criteria being used to identify the “at-risk” students is flawed. Even Treasury’s own figures show that the targeting will miss most of the children who need extra resources.
Treasury modelling shows that of children who meet two or more indicators, 61% will leave school with qualifications while 39% (or 48,560) won’t. Only 14% of the children who don’t meet the “at-risk” criteria won’t get school qualifications, but because there are so many more children in this group, 14% equates to 105,252 children – so far more who need extra support but who won’t be eligible. As one social scientist put it, “The work to identify useful indicators of achievement and non-achievement is only just beginning. There’s an awful lot of work still to be done.”
The per student funding being proposed by the Funding Review splits the amount into funding for teachers and funding for other costs. The Advisory Group recommended that this proposal go forward to the next stage, on the proviso that schools remain entitled to a certain number of teachers. Currently, staffing entitlement is based on roll numbers.
NZEI members, through their representative on the group, opposed per student funding but were a minority voice. However, even financial experts commissioned by the Ministry of Education have said that funding reform of itself will not improve learning and achievement.
“Education is a complex system and pulling central government levers often has little or unintended impacts on what happens in the classroom,” as a Treasury official commented in a report on the Funding Review’s work to Cabinet ministers, released under the Official Information Act.
It is time for politicians to recognise that education practitioners, as well as economists and accountants, need a seat at the top table when it comes to policy development. Jane Blaikie & Heeni Collins
Memberandum: Members explain why they went to their PUM