SEG funding falls by 1.8%

The Special Education Grant (SEG) paid to schools through operational grant funding is failing to keep up with wage inflation and roll growth. Between 2009 and 2016, the SEG rose from $33.5m to $39m, according to figures released to EA under an Official Information Act request.

The grant is shared between all schools and is meant to cover students’ special education needs. It is spent mainly on support staff to work with students. However, when adjusted for labour cost rises in that period, funding has fallen by 1.8%. In the same period, school rolls have risen from 760,859 students to 776,816 so the value per student has fallen, and the number of students with identified need has increased rapidly.

Support staff short-changed

NZEI’s support staff members are going back to court, following a decision by the Ministry of Education to ignore the sense of two earlier legal rulings on pay. Early this year, Novopay unilaterally cut the pay of support staff who have their pay annualised, by 3.7%, because of a problem with pay periods.

In two legal decisions, support staff have won. But the ministry has refused to accept a solution that would see the problem resolved over a longer period of time. Instead, it is planning to back pay the pay cut – and then not pay support staff at all for a fortnight in February.

As one affected member put it, “I am the chief earner in our family and to not get paid for a fortnight is just not feasible! How the hell are we supposed to keep a roof over our heads and eat?”

Or should that be HELP!

A new law before Parliament amends the Education Act and allows the Ministry of Education to issue a statement of NELP – National Education and Learning Priorities – that would apply to schools and ECE services. It will include “indicators of success” and link to new regulations setting out planning and reporting. It is unclear whether or how these “priorities” will be enforced, although the accountant who has been an architect of the reforms, Murray Jack, has talked about a suite of “hard” and “soft” incentives.

“The purpose of the NELP is to move to a system that is not just about delivering education, but about student achievement, with clear accountabilities for ECEs and schools,” says Minister of Education Hekia Parata.

The amendment law also opens the door to online schools, the so-called COOLs (Communities of Online Learning), which have been widely panned. These have been tried in the US, and are a favourite with charter school operators. Research from Stanford University shows online charter schools actually worsen underachievement for vulnerable students.

Other changes in the bill include cohort entry for five-year-olds and worrisome changes to the rights of boards of trustees to set the strategic direction of their schools.

Cuts that don’t heal

More than 80% of ECE members surveyed by NZEI Te Riu Roa have reported cuts being made to services or facilities, as a result of government cuts in funding.

More than 40% have seen worsening ratios of qualified to non-qualified staff over the last five years, and at a third, teacher-child ratios have risen.

The survey of 264 members found that over half now have increased contact time with children and decreased non-contact time for assessment, administration and meeting with families. Many are working unpaid hours to keep up.

Kindergartens have been particularly hard hit by the loss of funding, in 2011, for 100% qualified staff. Kindergartens have chosen to continue as 100% qualified but this is causing huge financial strain, as is a five-year freeze on per-child funding.

Teachers commented, “We cannot provide the trips and equipment we would like” and “There is less ability to make quality count” and “Teachers are not valued as a profession”.

ECE members have been vocal in the Better Funding Better Learning campaign (p8), warning schools what life is like under bulkfunding – cuts forced onto services and the difficult cost-cutting decisions that have to be made.

Keep up with developments on the All Kids Deserve the Best Start website and Facebook page.

Te Whāriki

The government has announced it will “update” the ECE curriculum, Te Whāriki.

The update appears to have a pedagogical focus, for example, looking at how Te Whāriki lines up with the New Zealand Curriculum, and also at technology. One of the original writers, Professor Margaret Carr, will review the final draft of the update to ensure the document maintains integrity.

However, there are concerns. While the “update” is not looking at measurable ECE “outcomes”, this work is continuing at the Ministry of Education behind closed doors. It also appears there will be no external consultation with educators or families on the “update”.