Amicus Curiae: Decile Wars - Chris Hipkins Strikes Back

Jenna McLachlan, Contributor

 Recently there has been an increasing concern that schools do not adequately provide funding for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. This has called into question the effectiveness of the nation's decile funding system. In response, Minister of Education Hekia Parata has proposed to funnel more resources to students ‘at risk’ of under-performance by implementing new standards for decile system assessment. However, many allege the proposed changes would instead stem further inequality and increase stigma throughout the nation’s education system.Currently, the government’s decile scheme aims to provide additional funding to those schools recognised as having higher proportions of students from low-socioeconomic communities. Schools are grouped into 10 decile bands on the basis of household incomes, household crowding, parental qualification, parental occupation and recipients of a benefit, which is then compared nationally across schools. While this does enable funding to be dispersed to schools with a high percentage of students from low socioeconomic communities, it does not enable the accurate representation of each individual's situation within each school. Additionally, as only 10% of schools can be allotted into each decile bracket, a school potentially risks shifting upwards a decile if another school's decile declines - thus losing funding despite a community’s situation remaining constant.Due to this, misrepresentation of students and schools requiring resources is especially prevalent across the middle decile band, and is further fuelled by the nation’s zoning implementation, which aims to limit a child’s choice of school providers. Increasing the stigma associated with the decile system further recognises a need for a shift away from, or redevelopment of, the government's targeted funding scheme.While no formal decision has been submitted as of yet, the Minister of Education has suggested a need to reclassify the system’s assessment standards by shifting the focus away from a region’s socio-economic standings, and towards children labelled as being ‘at-risk’. It has been proposed that children are deemed ‘at-risk’ if they meet one or more of the following criteria

  1. If they come from a family that has relied on a benefit for an extended period of time;
  2. If they have a parent that has served a prison sentence;
  3. If they themselves have suffered child abuse, or have a sibling who has suffered child abuse;
  4. If they have a parent with no formal qualifications.

 Consequently, the strong correlation between these factors and lowered levels of achievement, supports Parata’s assertion that a more targeted system would better recognise the level of need required within each school. Nonetheless, Labour Minister Chris Hipkins contends that Parata’s suggested assessment standards would be even more problematic than the current system in place. Hipkins asserts that shifting the already growing stigma away from the community and onto the individual child has the potential to cause harmful effects on student’s learning and mental wellbeing. As well as this, the generalisation that all students are at risk of underachievement if their parents have low-level qualifications would not be a fair statement to promote. Therefore, Hipkins draws emphasis towards keeping socioeconomic conditions central to the nation's targeted funding schemes, as they are recognised as a key contributor to inequality within New Zealand.Accordingly, there is a need for our government’s education funding scheme to better assist students requiring funding, and a need to better mitigate the stigma surrounding this issue. Debate is likely to continue to ensure the government’s policies create appropriate frames for targeting students.

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