Schools are underfunded because decile scores are based on outdated data – principals

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Some schools are fed up with the decile system that allocates more than $150 million a year based on enrollment of children from poor neighborhoods.

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Principals told RNZ they were getting the wrong funding because their deciles were based on 2013 census data and decile grade reviews were not always accurate.

They said many hoped the government would use this month’s budget to introduce the stock market index, which had been promised to replace deciles for several years.

School deciles are based on the number of students they attract from the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The 10% of schools with the highest proportion of children from these areas are decile 1, the 10% of schools with the next highest proportion of these children are decile 2, and so on until decile 10 schools that were the 10% of schools with the lowest proportion.

Kaipara Flats school principal Debbie Hamer said her school requested a review of its decile in 2019 and moved from decile 9 to 4.

“We made sure to contact every single parent, every whānau in the area, to get a response from every family. We filled out the forms and sent them out and I thought to be honest we would probably go down one or two deciles so when it went from decile 9 to decile 4, I was really shocked,” she said.

The change was worth a lot of money for a small school and it was probably time to overhaul the system, Hamer said.

“I’m sure there are plenty of schools sitting out there with a historical decile rating that they never challenged or didn’t know they could challenge.”

It took a lot of effort to make sure the school’s exam application included information about all the families and that would be much harder to do in larger schools, she said.

Oropi school principal Andrew King said it had moved from decile 9 to 8 after a review, but some families did not provide information.

“My hunch is that a true indication of our actual decile would be a 6 or a 7, not an 8, but that would have required more survey information from more families in the community,” said he declared.

King said moving from 9 to 8 brought the school about $8,000 a year in decile funding and he estimated it would get double that figure if it moved to decile 6 or 7.

Principal of Omokoroa Number One School, Craig Pentecost, said his school’s decile review at the end of 2020 failed completely.

He was convinced that the decile of the Bay of Plenty school would change if the figures were recalculated using up-to-date information, but he preferred to completely empty the system.

“Decile 10 status is not an accurate reflection of our learning community,” he said.

Pentecost said it would be exciting to see the stock index in this month’s budget.

The index was developed several years ago and was based on data on individual children from each school, rather than the neighborhoods they came from.

The government had planned to introduce it this year, but Covid-19 intervened, however, last year’s budget called for $23 million to introduce it by 2023.

“A lot of complexity”

But the principal of Te Pohue school, Richard Gillespie, said he was not enthusiastic.

He said the government used the index to decide which schools would receive free lunches, and decile 2 Te Pohue was absent even though a significant proportion of children were from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“With the equity index, depending on the feature list and how it’s created or where we sit, we can’t see how our numbers are how the department sees them and lines up. All of the stats and information that we’ve gotten here doesn’t match the position they say we’re in,” he said.

Secondary Principals Association president Vaughan Couillault said moving from deciles to the index would not be easy because the numbers were used to do more than just allocate extra money to certain schools.

“There’s a lot of complexity in terms of using a decile outside of that targeted funding in terms of the broader sector. Even as low and granular as director salaries. There’s a salary component of a principal who is labeled at the school’s decile.”

But where the index had been used before, such as to select schools for free lunches, it seemed to have worked reasonably well, he said.

“The stock index’s rollout on various support mechanisms over the past few years hasn’t elicited an allergic reaction, so it seems to be landing well.”

Couillault said the decile numbers were getting “vintage” and some schools’ numbers would no longer reflect their community.

It is not yet clear what the government is doing with the index, but Education Minister Chris Hipkins said it has not been dropped.

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