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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Proposed Funding Changes: Part Two - Key Themes


This post is part two in the series ProposedFunding Changes.  Part one looked at the seven key aspects of the proposal, and this post is a brief outline of some of the key themes that arise from these key aspects of the funding proposal.  NB: It is another longish post - so feel free to skim and scan the bolded bits. 

A Quick Reminder


Earlier this year the Government announced a major change in the way it intended to fund schools.  It proposes to replace the decile funding system, which it considers to be a ‘blunt instrument’, with a more layered approach.  The Government believes this will allow schools more flexibility.   It is hoped that this flexibility will be better suited to meet the challenges with the size of the achievement challenge.   In post one I highlight what each of the seven aspects of the changes are, and include my wonderings and concerns with the proposal.  

What I noticed as I read, re read and read again the background papers that sit behind the proposal, was that there are a series of themes that keep emerging.  Todays post intends to explore those themes a little further, and the wonderings I have as a result. 

Other Wonderings 

(from the background reading and Minister on the Nation)


Theme Based:


School Choice and Demonstration/Model Schools


Of interest was the section on ways to promote competition within our current  system by creating a greater role for the private section.  This would be done by providing additional public funding, controlling schools enrolment choices (without saying how), restricting the fees charged and tagging funding to improved student performance (by using valued added data).

In one of the reports it talks about diversity of provision and how there is limited evidence that parents demand more but instead, we (as a country) could use schools set up under section 156 of the education to act as models of key features they (the Ministry and Government) want to see implemented across the whole system (bulk funding, value added data and improved teacher appraisal were mentioned but with little information about what that might look like).  It is interesting that just this week one of the changes in the Education Act has allowed for this, with the introduction of CoOL schools (Community of Online Learning).  More about my thinking on this another time. 

Further discussion about diversity of provision focuses on introducing Demonstration and Model schools and that these would be a possible mechanism for implementing change.  With a little research, it would appear that this is yet another process ‘borrowed’ from the US.  One of the reports outlines how a select group of schools (or volunteer schools) could be used to trial some of the changes such as funding flexibility with a total resourcing model, in return for higher accountability and value added data (performance pay perhaps?).   The authors discuss how this could be a trial but if successful the school could be provided with additional autonomy (although I wonder what that looks like) that they would earn when demonstrating success.  (Does this sound like a Charter model?)  However they add the caveat that it is important not to ‘overfund’ these schools so that any effective change is attributed to practice, not funding. 

I wonder, what exactly are Demonstration and Model schools - what's the plan for these? They are meant to help all schools ‘lift their game’ (yes that is what the report actually said) but it is really unclear what they are and if the intention is to slip these into the current network.  Much is written in the briefing documents about how there is space in our current system for such schools (and more Charters) but the detail about this is either withheld or purposefully vague.  

Given the introduction of the CoOL's which came out of the proverbial 'blue' this week, I would guess that that idea is just one of many new ideas we will be barraged by.  I would also wonder if this is a deliberate tactic.  A tsunami of ideas is an effective tool to undermine and shake up current status quo.  


Competition


Competition in NZ, according to one report, takes place in the context of parents having poor information on which they base their choice of school, and that evidence shows that competition garners minimal gains.  Given schools often market themselves on non academic features, which can mask performance, the MoE propose developing a ‘value added’ data process to help inform parents.   

There is very little information on what this actually is although it does appear to come under the improved accountability stream.  One report outlined areas the authors felt could be ‘pushed harder for contestability’ included the 'measurement and management of performance' to put competitive pressure on schools to raise student achievement.  The report outlines how the MoE has an opportunity to develop value added data which would better inform parents when they make a choice of where to send their children.   The report does outline skepticism toward introducing a more actively competitive model that would include vouchers, removing zoning and increasing support for private schools (interesting given this is in the proposal released by the Minister) as there is limited evidence that there are gains for student achievement.

So I wonder, how will putting competitive pressure on schools around data improve outcomes for students?  What about all the variables?  How does pressurising schools assist things?  Why not work alongside schools and actually ask the Education sector what they think will make a difference?  I appreciate that this suggestion is lacking details (much is blacked out under OIA which makes my mind boggle about what it actually says - I assume its pretty controversial) but I wonder what evidence and research sits behind such a proposal?  I have not seen anything that shows increased pressure improves outcomes.   If we look to models offshore I think we can see the damage done under a competitive (data based) model.  

 Communities of Learning (CoLs) 


All through the papers there is constant mention of CoLs.  Unfortunately there is actually little detail about what this looks like, with quite a few things blacked out under OIA.  I do wonder what is so 'secret squirrel'  that the public can not be privy to - is it not the publics' tax dollars?  Is it not the publics' children?   

In terms of what was available to read, my wonderings are;  What will bundled support packages for CoLs and property actually look like?  Does that mean that one school in your cluster will build a ‘Math hub’ and the other schools ‘borrow’ it?  Will it mean that we share support and caretaker staffing?  Heaven help it if two windows break at the same time!!

My wondering is – is the CoL the first step in seeing if multiple Boards overseeing one principal is feasible?  The papers seem to indicate so.  Will administrative support (which is mentioned as something that CoLs will have) mean one super board, one super principal and one super PA? Do we give them capes?) 

What will happen to schools that do not join a CoL?  –Will they miss out on special education and professional development funding and opportunities?  It is unclear what will happen for students with special needs but it looks like funding for special education will be linked to CoLs.  What will that actually mean for schools and most importantly, individual students? Does that mean the RTLB (Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour) will be linked to CoLs and due for yet another shake up? 

It is expected that all schools will be in a CoL by 2018 – that is only 18 months away.  What will happen to those who are not in one?

Staffing and Base Funding


Once again there are more questions than there are answers.  Nothing I have read or attended, has been able to clear this up.  My questions are: 

What about hard to staff areas and supplementary funding?  
What about the Auckland crisis?  What’s being planned for that?
How much would base funding be? What do they consider a minimum level?

Property 


There seems to be (you just need to read the background papers) an assumption that all schools have mismanaged the property portfolio and that is why the state of the property assets are in such a mess.  Just on that, I would like to point out that it was not schools that changed the laws that allowed for substandard building practices that led to all the leaky buildings!  It was also not the previous Government that made the building standards slip.  

In addition, the Ministry signs off every property plan, and every school has a property advisor.  Blaming schools for the property stock mess is a little uncalled for.  Might I suggest some navel gazing?  There has been issues with the MoE property department for many years, including a long report indicating concerns from the Auditor General.  

One colleague made the point that to remove property from schools would lead to the days where all schools were painted in the same batch of ugly green, and that in fact, schools look better loved and cared for now then when they were under the 'education board' of the past.  He further pointed out that this was because we make the decisions on what happens in our school so we have a higher personal investment in making sure our schools look loved and cared for.  I tend to agree - we take great care of our school because we have a vested interest - if that vested interest is replaced by no say in what happens, I believe we will become complacent.  This is not a step forward but one back to the 'dark ages'.  

Re Class Sizes


Currently schools are funded on a staffing ratio – and principals decide how many students they place in each class.  Under the new system the Minister could not guarantee that classes would not grow.  The Minister outlined to the media and public that it already happened now because principals decided how many students went into a classroom  and that this funding would allow schools to continue to decide class numbers.  She outlined that the things people are concerned about already happen in the system.  

It is a little disingenuous to say this as classroom ratios are a very complex beast.  The decisions we make have to be made by taking into account many variables.  Class numbers might seem high in a year 4, 5, or 6 class, but the ratios are 1:29, and if 8 year 6 students walk in they need to be housed - whilst that many students will generate some funding it is not enough for a new class to be set up in that area of the school.  To tell the public that the reasons class numbers in some schools are high is because I and my colleagues 'decide' is to only tell a tiny part of the story.  

A wondering that needs to be had is what will happen to specialist teachers?  The Intermediate schools have already had several attacks on them, and the new proposed funding may be a new attack.  What happens to the ratios for specialist teachers (think technology, music, art, food tech etc).   I wonder if this is yet another way (add CoOL) to phase out Intermediate schools?  Not the cheapest schools to run so when you look at economies of scale, one must wonder about the agenda.  

Although, with this 'think' in mind in term of cheaper to run schools, I would think that smaller schools would be in the firing line but it seems mass school reorganisation is off the table (or at least for the moment in an obvious way).  Mind you, the changes in the Education Act will make reorgainisation easier to instigate (cue CoOL - less actual students attending as 'bottoms on seats' means more chance of schools being unviable...). Cue also the changes to the Education Act that allow for more than one Board to appoint a principal between schools - this paves the way for mergers quite nicely.  Well played Minister and associated minions - well played!  I imagine there are more 'obstacle removers' my brain just has not made the connections - yet.  

From the MoE (Ministry of Education) presentation  


At the presentation meeting  it was stated that they were looking for ‘ideas’ – I wonder, what are all these magical 'ideas' coming out from the sector?  Are they going to share them, so we can both applaud and critique them?

It was said that the ‘consultation’ was to seek our thoughts and support for change, but I wonder, what if the sector doesn't want to change or go that direction?  Then what?   How much buy in is enough buy in for this proposal to progress?  Is it one person, all educators or just a percentage?  What is the magic number?

The roll out of the new funding proposal is due to come into effect just before the new decile recalibration would take effect.  I wonder, If the roll out is before the next decile recalibration is that because with the state of poverty in our country there is an expectation that there will be higher need?  And actually, this will cost more?

Regarding the ‘consultation', Apparently it is to determine the core rules that will be determining the funding; this is the design phase and the details are to come.   We were told that the Cabinet has agreed to undertake a testing of the ideas, which will then be tested in greater details.  Great pains were made to point out that 'nothing is set in stone'. The adequacy question is to get addressed through the design process.  I am unsure if I fully understand how this will occur.  What if it is shown to be highly inadequate? Then what?

When the Ministry was asked if the design process was looking at other school models like  middle schools, the answer was no.  Yet this would be wise because middle schools have issues regarding funding and staffing that schools like mine don’t face.  It was stated that the intent was to get the year design bit rights, but the point about how different rules applying to the primary and secondary contexts was important, so I wonder what will happen around this?


Other Questions asked:


At our meeting the question of will the amount of staffing credits be enough to maintain what we have now, was asked but there was no answer to this.

When asked if staffing will be linked to at risk kids, the MoE replied that apparently this  could be cash or a percentage of teacher – this detail is still to be ironed out.  Hmm.

When asked if this new process will allow us to increase funding and staffing as our roll increases, the short answer was yes.   Staffing will still be paid centrally but charged as an average.  In our accounts we will see the average but the Moe will pay the ‘bill’ for overs.  But for how long, I wonder?    

Right now no schools know what the staffing entitlement will look like – this is still to be determined. 

When asked if the number of staff a school is credited will be based on student numbers as it is now, the answer was unclear.  Apparently this needs to be tested because the Ministry data shows that schools fund an additional 900 teachers over entitlement now.  2019 will be when schools get the first indicative staffing notice.   So, if schools are already funding 900 over entitlement now, surely this shows the current system is inadequate - if I was to ask my colleagues (in particular those who can not afford to 'over staff' if they would overstaff if they had the money) - I am betting they would.

The best question asked was why not do a trail first? The answer was that some bits, like the property aspects are already being trialed.  I wonder where and what does that look like?   That’s the first I have heard. 

Finally, Be Careful about what you wish for:


A final point and wondering I might make is about property and decile.  For quite sometime the Minister has been telling the pubic via the media that schools and school principals constantly tell her that we hate property and it takes much of our time.   We also (not me by the way) tell her and her officials that the decile system is unfair.  Interestingly, I do hear this quite a bit from colleagues who tell me that it is unfair that their decile 10 students get far less per pupil funding than mine.  When I ask how many 'at risk' students they have, or what kind of money they bring in from fundraising efforts or donations, or if they need to implement significant pastoral care programmes, or if they have ever had difficulties staffing (although all Auckland schools are now struggling in this area), or how much transiency is an issue for them etc (you can see where I am going with this) then the conversation shifts - sometimes.  

Whilst there is a truth to the issues we face regarding property, and sometimes the decile system is not as targeted for all students, the old adage of 'be careful what you wish for' applies here.  Now, instead of asking educators what we want (or actually fixing the issues in the Ministry) we are instead going to get no say and lose the ability under self governance to make our own decisions about what our schools look like, and the funding mechanism is now likely to do less to ensure equitable outcomes.  

In this situation, like the decile shake up, the Minister is using our own concerns against us in order to save money and set the agenda.  In some respects, I feel we have been the catalyst of our own coming misfortune.  Education should not ever be about 'one up man-ship'  - instead there should be a collective efficacy from both educators and Boards of Trustees for the educational outcomes of our all our students.  To do this schools need to acknowledge that there is not an equal playing field for all students and instead of being envious of the per pupil funding a school with many at risk students has, be looking at ways to share best practice across the system and be supportive of the challenges all our schools face.  

Remember, where there is disharmony in the hen house, the fox will find it easier to get in and to take charge.  

FURTHER READING: 



Treasury Report (mostly blacked out by OIA)




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