27 May 2016

Beneficiary focus for school funding causes rift

6:06 pm on 27 May 2016

Schools will not know which students are attracting funding targeted to children of beneficiaries, and they don't need to, Education Minister Hekia Parata says.

National MP

National MP Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Instead of the usual across-the-board increase to schools' operations funding, the Budget is targeting about $12.3 million a year to schools with children of long-term beneficiaries, starting next year.

The Ministry of Education website said that would cover about 150,000 children aged 5 to 18 whose parents had been on benefits for 75 percent of the first five years, or 75 percent of the most recent five years of their lives.

It said research indicated that group of students needed more support to succeed in education than others.

Ms Parata said data-matching with Ministry of Social Development information in September would determine how much each school would get next year.

But she said schools would not know which children were attracting it.

"This will be anonymised data, we won't be naming the kids because of course that would be stigmatising them.

"We're using this formula to arrive at the allocation, but then it will be up to schools how they use it and how they measure the impact on achievement.

Ms Parata said schools did not need to know the identities of the children in question or how many of them there were in their classrooms.

"Most schools know who their struggling families are, in fact I doubt there's any school that doesn't.

"But this isn't being targeted to the individual. We're using that to arrive at the formula, then how schools use it will be to their professional discretion."

Ms Parata said the money would not follow children if they changed schools, because schools needed certainty.

She said more than 98 percent of schools would get funding from the scheme.

University or secondary school students study in a classroom.

Photo: 123RF

For children who need it

The government's plan has had a mixed reception from teachers and principals.

Mount Cook School principal Sandy McCallum said it was fantastic that money was being focused on the children who needed it most.

"I will be just curious to know how that will be managed, but certainly there's a massive need, we have a massive need in our school and I think that any money for those children is fantastic."

Principals Federation president Iain Taylor said the decision to target funding was a good one.

"These children do need support. So I don't actually have a problem with that. Obviously there will be people who think it's unfair across the whole system, but targeting those students from those families, that's a good move."

Mr Taylor said the money might not sound like a lot, but every little bit helped.

"Eighty bucks is eighty bucks. Yes it's not a heck of a lot of money but it's something that a school could do in terms of supporting that kid if they're needing extra support with a bit of reading or writing or it might be something pastoral. It's better than nothing."

Not enough for those on the edges

Jan Tinetti, principal of Merivale School in Tauranga, was not sure the government had got it right.

She said most of the students at her decile-one school were not from families that were the government's target but were also in need of support.

"My families where they have that dependency on benefits or have been long term on benefits are actually families that are in housing at the moment," she said.

"And probably families that are, [in] some ways, compared to my working families, better off."

Ms Tinetti did not yet have details of how the money would be allocated, but estimated her school might get about $2400 a year from the targeted funding on the basis that it equated to about $80 per child in the target group.

She said that was less than the $3700 the school would get if the government simply increased operations grants by 1 percent.

Post Primary Teachers Association general secretary Michael Stevenson said some targeting was a good idea but the government had done it too cheaply.

"You shouldn't do it at the cost of the wider school population, which is what's happened here, robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Mr Stevenson said the amount provided by the targeted funding was very little.

He said the government should be ensuring all schools' funding kept pace with inflation and then add more on top of that to target the highest need.

Secondary Principals Association president Sandy Pasley said hoped schools that missed out on extra funding would understand that others needed it more.

She said principals were hoping schools would get more funding next year after the government had completed its review of the school funding system.

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