Key points

  • Decile funding is not enough to close the gap between rich and poor students.
  • “Parent help” in a low decile schools is just as likely to mean the school helping parents.
  • Parents’ donations to schools rose by $23 million between 2008 and 2010.

Decile funding is not enough to bridge the inequality divide, according to a survey by Education Aotearoa.
EA talked to principals at five decile 1 and five decile 10 schools and found that, on average, funding for each high-decile pupil was about $1100 more per pupil per year than for low-decile pupils.
The extra funding per pupil that the government gives to low decile schools seems insufficient to bridge the gap created by what one principal describes as˜the fundraising economy’ of high decile schools.
A high decile Auckland school can ask a child’s parents for $600 at the start of the year, as a donation and “activity fees”, and expect a 90 percent response rate from parents. A low decile school might typically ask for $10 a term, and get a 30-35% response rate.

Power mums

In addition, fundraising at high-decile schools, often run by the “power mums”” former executives with time on their hands” can bring in huge sums.
The website for Remuera Primary School is promoting its “Development Trust” which has been set up to raise $5 million to ensure “a significant and ongoing income stream for the school”.
As one decile principal put it, “This is a poor area, with a limited amount of money” we don’t have fairs and the like. If we didn’t have that decile funding, it’d be bloody difficult.”

The survey

For the survey, EA asked the principals for each school’s total income from all sources for 2011 and its roll at March 2011. The income included operational funding, teacher salaries, fundraising, donations, special needs funding, a notional funding for the use of land of buildings, and various other government grants.
Decile 10 schools brought in $8653 on average per pupil, compared to $7518 per pupil at decile 1 schools.
In Australia this˜funding-per-pupil’ information is now available on the MySchool website, but it will not be included in the government’s new site here.

Thin end

However, monetary advantage may only be the thin end of the wedge. Most new entrants turn up to high decile schools well-prepared for learning. Research suggests that they will have heard some 32 million more spoken words than a child turning up to a decile 1 school.
The cultural capital of a stable middleclass home cannot be underestimated” as Jim Traue, former chief librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library, wrote recently, these children “have been intensively engaged in conversation with adults since birth and read to regularly by parents since the age of two.”

Starting behind

All of this leads to strong peer-to-peer learning” which must be another factor in why many parents seek to send their children to higher decile schools. New figures show the number of Pakeha attending low decile schools has halved in the past decade.
Principals at low decile schools report that their children regularly start school two years behind “normal” levels. For these principals, student needs are immediate and overwhelming, leaving little time for fundraising. Principals tended to spend their extra decile funding on teacher aides, learning assistants and extra teachers. Parent help, too, is not so available at low decile schools.

Parent help

At a low decile schools, the term “parent help” can just as easily mean the school offering programmes to support parents. Many of these schools run programmes for parents on budgeting, health and parenting.
But on the other side of town, “parent help” can mean parents transporting children to and from cultural and sporting events, parents running the library, mending and cataloguing books, acting as teacher aides, and running programmes such as the Perceptual Motor Programme, which helps develop gross and small motor skills” besides running fundraising activities such as quiz nights, auctions, and fairs.
In Auckland, high decile schools have also been able to tap in to the international student market.

The cost of fundraising

But principals at high decile schools report that fundraising takes up too much of their time. One decile 10 principal in Auckland reported a $200,000 shortfall between what the school received from the government for operational funding and what it cost to run the school.
He also had concerns that the extra funding that went to special needs students in low decile schools overlooked needs at his schools. “Just because these children live in a nice area doesn’t mean they’re not dyslexic and dyspraxic or have behaviour problems; they have every kind of special need.” His school also runs a gifted education programme, largely funded by the school community.

Underfunded

In fact, principals from all deciles stated that New Zealand schools generally are underfunded.
Their concerns are backed up by the numbers. According to the Ministry of Education’s website, “Relative to the countries with which we usually compare ourselves [Australia, Ireland, OECD average, UK and US], New Zealand has the lowest annual expenditure on educational institutions per student at all levels.”
At the same time, New Zealand student achievement levels rate higher in the international PISA rankings than students from all these countries.
The government riposte to its relatively low spend on education has been to recast that spend as a percentage of GDP, which is above the OECD average” a reflection of our relatively low GDP level.

Bridging the gap

But how long can schools keep bridging the gap?
New statistics out last term show household income inequality rose again in the year to June 2011, and is now at its highest level ever in New Zealand. Median (household) income fell by 3% over the year.
A decile 7 teacher reported her school had noticed an increase in the number families where both parents worked, meaning fewer were available for “parent help”.
“Middle income families can’t survive without a second income. In the past, you could be poor but you could survive on one income, but not now,” she said.
Other figures out from the Ministry of Education show that the amount parents pay in school donations increased by more than $23 million between 2008 and 2010, with the sharpest increases happening in mid-decile schools. The only decile where the amount raised fell was in decile 1 schools, where donations fell by 7%.

Russell School’s Breakfast Club

Breakfast02On an average day at Russell School in Porirua about 24 children from a roll of 140 come for breakfast. Monday to Wednesday they get cereal and toast, and twice a week a cooked breakfast of eggs and baked beans. Principal Sose Annandale says if you feed the children’s bodies, you also feed their minds.
The school relies on charity to feed its children, after New Zealand Red Cross withdrew from its breakfast in schools programme. But there are regular contributors (one woman comes in every week), and occasional donations from well wishers, such as local workers who spent some prize winnings on supermarket vouchers for the school.
For now, the school has a relatively high profile, after featuring in Bryan Bruce’s 2011 documentary Inside Child Poverty, and being part of a community campaign that stopped a nearby liquor store extending its hours.
And it does get help through the Ministry of Education’s fruit in schools programme” a piece of fruit per child twice a week. The charity KidsCan also provides snacks and non-perishable food that can be used to supplement lunches.
Breakfast10But it’s piecemeal -like all New Zealand’s food programmes in schools.
Some programmes are deliberately designed that way in the belief families won’t start expecting their children to be fed at school. Kickstart, run by Sanitarium and Fonterra, is provided only twice a week. Another Fonterra programme, when rolled out across the country next year, will provide children with a small carton of UHT milk five days a week. Fonterra describes it as a “nutritional boost”, not a meal.
The Children’s Commissioner’s expert advisory group recommended in August that a nationwide food in schools programme be introduced to address poverty among a quarter of the country’s children, but the group’s report was not favourably received by government.