4 Aug 2016

Students on school deciles: 'It's sad to have this label stuck'

6:38 pm on 4 August 2016

A group of secondary school students has urged Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to give school decile numbers the chop.

Deputy Prime-Minister Bill English at Taita College with students and principal, Karen Morgan.

Deputy Prime-Minister Bill English at Taita College with students and principal, Karen Morgan. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Mr English visited Taita College in the Hutt Valley today after students responded to his comment earlier this year that the government should ask teenagers from the suburb of Pomare about success in poor communities.

The group of high-achievers told Mr English their school helped them through after-school homework sessions, personal commitment from teachers and a strong sense of community.

Kaisa Fa'atui told Mr English he was proud of his school, but life was not easy for a lot of people in the area.

"It's difficult for students here, especially since for some they're ending up fighting wars on two fronts, which is one at home and one at school. It's kind of difficult to sugar-coat the conditions that some people have to go through in Taita and Naenae."

Mr English wanted to know how to reach struggling students and the school's head girl, Susana Bryce-Alapati, said family was the key, especially for those from Pasifika backgrounds.

"If you wanted an example of how to get to those students that are down in the deep end, you should be like 'what would your mum say, what would your mum think of you, what would your grandpa think of you'," she said.

"Their whole persona just changes, because they have their family at heart, especially their parents."

Several of the students criticised the decile system, which allocates schools a number from one to 10, based on the number of students they enrol from the most disadvantaged areas.

They said schools in poor areas needed the extra resources that accompanied a low decile number, but not the assumptions that went with it.

Tessa Porter said a low decile number placed an unwanted and unnecessary stigma on a school and its students.

"It's kind of sad to have this label stuck and it also might demoralise you as well," she said.

Mr English said the criticism of the decile system struck a chord with him and, overall, he was impressed.

"These kids are really motivated, not just about themselves but as demonstrated in the discussion, about the school as a community and the kids within it who need more support than they need."

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