PART ONE: What are these 'proposed changes'?
WARNING: This is quite a long post – feel free to read the bolded bits!
Earlier this year the Minister of Education announced a radical shake up of how schools in New Zealand will be funded. I confess when I first heard the news my brow furrowed and my eyes narrowed. My tendency to be skeptical when faced with yet another major change to the system warred ferociously with the strengths based side of my personality, who wants to see what the ‘gems’ in any idea are. In fairness to the warring side, quite a few changes that have been implemented in recent years have been more detrimental to achieving successful outcomes for students than positive, so the track record is not looking good! The testament to this would be the growing number of wrinkles I am collecting from the narrowing of the eyes and furrowing of the brow!
I have been percolating this post for some time now, actually since the announcement. In the resulting months I have read, reread and read again the papers that sit behind the proposed new funding model, sometimes shaking my head in a mixture of disbelief and concern. I have watched our Minister discuss the proposal with our countries media, and most importantly, I have attended one of the ‘consultation’ meetings.
I had hoped that all this reading, watching, asking and participating would help ease my disquiet and answer some of the many wonderings I have. Not so. It also seems that the more I talk with my colleagues, the less answers any of us have.
So, where to start?
The more I read the more I see reoccurring themes emerge. The more I see these themes, the more questions and wonderings I have. For the purposes of this post, I think the easiest route is to do a rundown of what the proposal is (in case you have been somehow out of the educational loop and it has passed you by), and then outline my wonderings. Part Two will then look at each of the reoccurring themes that emerge from the background papers and the consultation meeting and what my subsequent wonderings are.
What is the proposal:
That there be seven areas of change made up of three main proposals and four supporting aspects.
The Three Main Proposals:
1. Per-child funding – a magic
amount still as yet undetermined
All indications are that the current funding model looks like a U shape, with the most funding going to the younger students and older students. The best description I have heard is that rather than seeing it like a U shape, it is more like the Nike Whoosh. What the proposal aims to do is flatten out the funding. To do this would mean that some aspects of school funding (either from the younger students or the older) would need to be funded less.
The message has been that there is no more funding; instead it will be more of a reallocation. This message is not clear, as the MOE advisor indicated that the review might (emphasis on might) show a case for further funding and this would then be taken to the Minister of Finance. Given the ‘consultation’ documentation also said that the scope of the review did not cover the adequacies of existing funding, seems to me to be a ‘cart before the horse’ kind of review.
I wonder, how can you possibly review funding if you a. don’t know how much it costs to run a school and b. are not looking at if the existing funding is adequate or not (I suspect this is because if they do they will see gaping holes in equity and they will be overwhelmed by how much money we need).
To reallocate funding by flattening out what is currently funded, it must come from within the current system. This means there will be ‘losers’ in order for some age groups to be ‘winners’. Whilst the official documents suggest that this is about aligning the funding to the challenges within each year group, and making sure there is a shift to more funding per child, and it suggests that this will be the foundation for further funding. I remain skeptical.
My wonderings are, what research did they use? If they used the early intervention research then they would be making a case for lifting funding for little people, not flattening it out. I wonder, which child will they take that funding off – your preschooler and five year old, or my preteen? How will they decide? They say it is to address the educational challenge at each area, so given the dip in achievement in year 4 (thanks National Standards) I would imagine that this year group might get funded more? But who will lose? Fun times ahead sorting this out!
2. Additional funding for ‘at risk’ students
This is designed to replace the decile funding we currently have, under the guise of readdressing the stigma attached to decile. A series of criteria will be used and it is hoped this will align with the Governments current Investment Approach.
Apparently the ‘at risk’ funding will be judged on criteria that look a little like the following (although this is up for debate under the consultation):
- - Maternal parents educational background
- - Incarceration rates
- - Child, Youth and Family involvement (although it will be under a new name)
- - Benefit dependent families
Schools will then receive funding for ‘at risk’ students based on the criteria. This funding will not be identified by student name, and if students that would attract the funding leave during the year, it will not follow the student. This is because at the moment, the anecdotal evidence is that where one ‘at risk’ student leaves, another will take its place. Several wonderings arise from this. Firstly, although the Ministry say that we wont know which students are attracting the funding, I do wonder how they will know if the targeted funding is making a difference if we are unable to know who it is we are targeting! Sure, we will have a rough idea, but actually, it’s a little hit and miss the way it is being proposed. Do they not trust us with sensitive information? Apparently the ‘bigger brother’ system will know who these kids are, and we will just get a dollop of money in. On one hand that means we wont have to add the criteria to our enrolment forms but it does raise some bigger questions about why we cant be told who they are targeting – who are we going to tell? Surely the more information we have the better equipped we are to make choices and ‘meet the challenge’ – time the Ministry walked the talk!
It is great that they want to take the stigma of the decile away but lets be very clear, it is only a placebo. Prospective parents will change from asking ‘what decile are you?’, to ‘How much ‘at risk’ targeted funding do you get?”. Same thing, just a different language. The community is not silly.
3. Supplementary funding
To support isolated schools and services, provide more funding ‘per child’ and to help maintain a network of schools and ECE providers across the country.
If there is no more funding, where does the supplementary funding come from? Is this another ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul’ situation? Who shall we take it from? Perhaps Special Needs – there is no mention of that in this review or how this area will be funded – or ESOL for that matter – perhaps those areas are being dissolved to make way for the ‘supplementary’ funding. Given the rising level of Special Needs in our schools, and an increasing population that does not speak English, this area surely should be under scrutiny. How does the Special Education review fit in here?
Four Supporting Funding Ideas:
1. The Global Budget
This is one of the most controversial aspects of the funding proposal. The purpose is touted as the ability to provide schools with greater flexibility around staffing, in order to meet the educational challenges within each school. Under this proposal, teaching staff will be issued as staffing credits and this will enable schools greater flexibility around staffing, in order to meet the educational challenges within each school.
Teaching staff will be charged at the ‘average rate’ (although there are no details about how this looks yet) so that a school can determine how they resource staffing in their school and so BoTs can make decisions based on the challenges within their schools. Schools will be bulk funded although initially this is issued as a credit, any unused staffing credits will be provided to the school at the end of the year. At the Ministry meeting it was made clear that if a schools allocated staffing cost more than the ‘average’ (due to experience and qualifications of teachers) then this cost would be worn by the Ministry.
Once of the concerns is that class size will be impacted upon, as schools make decisions based on staffing. The Minister often says school principals make these decisions already. This is true, but the concern here is that we will have to lift ratios in order to ensure we fit within the funding provided. Thus far there is too little information to know what impact this will have.
I am assuming (but by no means will I be surprised if it does not work out this way) that staffing credits will be allocated to schools in a similar way to how it currently works, based on student numbers. However, given the ‘flattening’ out of funding for year groups, I wonder if student ratios will also be ‘quietly reviewed’ with the outcome being higher numbers (to offset costs). There was no answer to this query. This is where schools will be forced to increase ratios and class size will grow.
There has been comparisons to bulk funding, which the Ministry is taking great pains in assuring all and sundry that it is not, but there are scary similarities. Once again, schools are being incentivized to buy in ‘cheaper’ teachers – for my school that would mean less experienced. If I want to receive some of the ‘bulk funding’ from unused teacher credits (not that dissimilar to how banking staffing works now, only in that case one is incentivized to understaff) then I am encouraged to employ cheaper teachers. Sounds ok on the surface? By doing so I would be able to employ more teachers right? We could fund additional support programmes with the extra money right?
Not really – lets look at that a little deeper. If we were to all only employ inexperienced, cheaper teachers, who will mentor them? What will this mean to our students if they keep on having inexperienced beginning teachers? What will happen to the ‘tail’? Might work in schools where there are less ‘at risk’ students, but I am doubtful. Why would we shortchange our students and the teachers starting their careers with substandard support?
We want good outcomes for students, so why am I not being incentivized to ensure my teachers have mentors/coaches and to develop them professionally? We will do it anyway, because that is the ethical and professionally responsible thing to do, but I do wonder if schools will be tempted to scoop up some funding to use elsewhere? Some schools may also be tempted to increase class levels in order to balance the books. 'At risk’ students need a range of teaching experience, especially teachers who are skilled in acceleration and engagement. Employing inexperience will not ‘fix’ the tail.
There are big worries about the Global Funding aspect. It comes from Australia and indicators from the Northern Territory are that it has left schools understaffed and very much in significant debt.
I am also wondering how will staffing allocation work? Is that under review as well?
Then there are contractual aspects that need to be considered – because although the paperwork at the consultation meeting said that current contractual things would not be impacted upon, I do wonder about what will happen to allowances such as the Mita allowance, and what about decile allowances? If you do away with the decile funding approach then you can’t give out allowances for decile? Do these get replaced by an ‘at risk allowance’?
How about staffing in relation to support staff? Are they finally reviewing what schools pay in this area so they can make an informed decision before funding for support staff?
Finally, mention was made about Staffing credits being based on the size of achievement but what actually does that mean? I remain unclear!
2. Greater Accountability (to show the correlation between funding and outcomes).
The purpose for this proposal is to have more accountability and transparency and achievement for individual students, and to ensure more effective support and interventions. This would be done by using common information and making it freely available to parents and communities. ERO would be the group tasked with considering at risk students as part of their role.
How? What does clear expectations and greater accountability look like? What will they use? I suspect PACT will be the tool of choice. It is interesting that they talk about using a common language – so far that common language is via National Standards, but the data for that is showing that it is not working. So what does that mean? Where does the front end of the Curriculum (things like Values and Key Competencies) fit into this?
If I was being skeptical I would say this might be the catalyst for National Testing (bare with me – is that not the easiest way to get common language and assured accountability?) and from there, it is just a short skip to performance pay based outcomes. When you read the documents that lead into the funding proposal you can see this is where the conversation is heading.
At the consultation meeting, data was discussed and the point was made that National Standard and NCEA data was good data but that it was not enough. They emphasized that it was not about introducing funding to punish under achievement, but I will sit on the fence around that until I see more about how this is meant to look.
3. Separating out property funding
Touted as a way to support schools with property and ensure the property network is looked after properly and that funding for property is used for only property. It will provide the opportunity for a more centralised approach.
Where do I start?
Will it remove all property funding? Indicators seem to suggest so. If it removes all property from the funding hat, then what happens to Maintenance? For example, if we have a broken window are we meant to get ‘permission’ from the centralized property department before we get the window fixer in? Do we then send an invoice to the Ministry? Did anyone consider how overworked our property advisors are already and how hard it is to nail one down for a meeting? I wonder if there is capacity and capability within the Ministry to pick up this level of micromanagement!
I then wonder about staffing – what happens to my Caretaker? Is this a part of my staffing credit? Who funds it? Apparently staffing credits will include support staff like the caretaker and secretary but there are very little details around this (I asked the Ministry person directly and it was a little vague, he did say that it would be part of the credit but you pay the actuals).
4. Further support for Private schools
By setting the existing subsidy as a fixed percentage. This would give private schools greater certainty and support for ongoing viability.
The reports to Treasury outline how students that go to private schools are our ‘cheapest students’. That there should be more public money for private schools so that parents who are taxpayers can expect to get some support for their choice for their children. As these students are the cheapest, setting a per student amount is something the Government can set aside for private education. When the Minister was asked it this was a bail out because private schools were struggling, she stated NO, it was just about supporting parental choices and giving private schools more predictability on funding and that as tax payers they (parents) should get more money to support the choice they make for their children’s education.
Where do I start?
If you want your child to get a private education because you feel the public one is not good enough, then I should not be subsiding your choice! I don’t expect anyone to offset my private health insurance because it is my choice. Ideally the Government should be making sure that everyone’s tax dollars are paying for a high quality public system. Not subsidizing those who can afford ‘choice’. It is inequitable to prop up a private system by taking it away from our most at risk students – this is counter-intuitive. If the private system is so great it should be self-funding.
I also wonder about what the accountability will look like for them? If you get more public money then you should be accountable for it just as I am.
In summary, this is the proposal as it currently stands. Part two will outline what some of the key themes are that emerge from the background readings. As a starting point to understand the bigger picture behind the proposed funding changes I recommend you read the NZEI 'Connect the Dots' handout as it puts everything into perspective. This handout is particularly good as it shows all the reforms in one place, ones we already have and ones waiting to be enforced. Some of the changes are quite radical. It is important to read through this document as it makes it simple to see how each reform is related. Of particular note is how often Communities of Schools are mentioned (CoLs) and how often funding and professional development opportunities are linked to schools being in a CoL. When you look at the Governance Bill, you can see how having several Boards of Trustees employing one Principal across several schools syncs nicely with the concept of CoL. As a cost saving mechanism, having one principal overseeing several schools could end up being quite a money saver.
In Part Two I will be exploring the link with the proposed funding and the themes of school choice/demonstration and model schools, competition, CoLs, staffing and base funding, information from the MoE presentation, property class sizes, and random other thoughts.