17 Jan 2018

Outspoken - Education

From Outspoken, 3:00 pm on 17 January 2018

Schools will not close disparities in education achievement between poor and rich children without significant increases in funding and resources, three long-serving principals say.

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Photo: 123RF

Allan Vester from Auckland's Edgewater College, Frances Nelson from Fairburn School in Otahuhu and John Russell from Naenae College in the Hutt Valley told RNZ's Outspoken the Government must address social factors such as housing and health in order to help schools improve students' education outcomes. 

The principals were leaving teaching at the end of 2017 or early in 2018.

Mr Vester said schools would not be able to close gaps in achievement by adopting new ways of teaching.

"Closing the gap simply by expecting the teachers you've got in the system to suddenly be able to work miracles is wrong, and that won't happen. My sense very much is if you want to make a difference at that level you do need to make some major system changes," he said.

He said that included changes to the system for funding schools, but also changes in other areas of social support. "The research that the OECD has done and a number of organisations really showed that if you don't change some of the other social factors in terms of employment and housing and health then in fact education will be restricted in the difference that it can actually make," Mr Vester said.

Principal of Edgewater School, Allan Vester

Students with the principal of Edgewater School, Allan Vester Photo: RNZ/John Gerritsen

Fairburn School's Frances Nelson said many parents at her school had two low-paid jobs each and were struggling to make ends meet, let alone support their children's learning.

"We have to make a difference outside the school setting to enhance what we do inside it," she said.

"Schools will never solve the problems of poverty. This actually has to be a well-rounded many-faceted beast that we have to slay."

The Education Ministry is reviewing the school funding system and was expected to move to a system that targetted extra funding to children with particular risk factors, such as parents who were beneficiaries.

Ms Nelson said she had reservations about such a change. 
"If you are a low decile then that is equated by some people out there as being a failing school, regardless of what you're doing. I am concerned that down the track the label will be different, but will it be a better label or a worse label."

John Russell from Naenae College said calculating the amount of extra funding schools in poor communities needed was not easy.

Head and shoulders photo of man in an office.

Naenae College Principal, John Russell. Photo: ( RNZ / John Gerritsen )

"Double the number of students at risk doesn't double the need, it quadruples the need," he said.

Mr Russell said the current system provided extra operational funding to schools in poor area, but that was inadequate and such schools also needed extra staffing. 

He said schools needed to rethink how they taught their students in order to ensure that they did the best job possible. 

"Our focus is totally on culturally responsive pedagogy - think about life from the perspective of the other person, the student. What are their cultural values, how are you acknowledging those in the classroom, what is the curriculum  you are choosing. That is quite different across cultures," Mr Russell said.
"You come into a system where it is all on the terms of the eurocentric world view, that's not an equal playing field by any means, and it's not where the strength sits and it's not good for society."

The principals warned that league tables and pass rate targets had a negative effect on schooling.

However, they were positive about the state of schooling, saying schools were much more focused on the needs of individual students than they had been in the past. 

Outspoken is a series in which RNZ's experienced correspondents host debates on some of the top issues of the year - and the year ahead. Listen to episodes here.

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