21 Oct 2020

More enrolment zones touted as way to tackle 'white flight' from low-decile schools

1:54 pm on 21 October 2020

A big increase in school enrolment zones is being touted as a way to slow white flight from low-decile schools.

Generic Library / Students

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The Ministry of Education (MoE) is introducing or altering 135 enrolment zones in Auckland over three years because of rapid growth.

The MoE has told the government it could save tens of millions of dollars and better manage Auckland's growth if it fast-tracks the creation of new enrolment schemes in high-growth areas, and tightens others.

Susan Warren from Auckland's Comet Education Trust said the push for more zones showed the number of schools and classrooms in the city had not kept pace with its growth.

She said it could result in a lot less "white flight" from lower-decile schools.

"My hopeful side says that maybe with more enrolment schemes around that people will more likely go to their local school where they are allowed in, and that we will therefore get potentially more diversity within areas, rather than the white flight that we're seeing," Warren said.

That would result in more Pākehā and Asian students mixing with the Pasifika and Māori students in their local communities, she said.

But that vision was optimistic and it was more likely people would continue to try to avoid certain schools in favour of others, she said.

"The reality is people will do what they have to do to get into the school they want for their kids, so we'll probably see more people actually moving, physically moving into certain areas and of course those will be the people who can afford to do so," she said.

The city's principals associations did not know about the MoE's enrolment scheme project until RNZ informed them about it.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Stephen Lethbridge said schools were going to have to look at the needs of the region over their own plans for growth.

"There is a bigger picture in play and for a long period of time schools have managed their numbers through in-zone and out-of-zone enrolments and I think the time is coming where we have to look at whether out-of-zone enrolments are a viable option for the future," he said.

More pieces to the puzzle

At the start of this year, about 300 of Auckland's 500 schools had enrolment zones, and Lethbridge said it was possible they would all end up with zones.

He said zones themselves would not reduce out-of-zone enrolments unless there was also a push to restrict schools' ability to make those enrolments.

"I don't think it will have any significant impact unless there is a move to look at restricting out of zone enrolments because at the moment parents still have a choice and can still apply to schools for out-of-zone enrolments so until that's on the agenda I don't think there will be any significant changes to roll numbers," he said.

However, Lethbridge said many schools could have less room for out-of-zone enrolments as their neighbourhoods grew, often due to in-fill housing and housing densification.

Some schools were growing very fast and did not have sufficient space even for students who came from within their zone, he said.

Lethbridge said Auckland did not need winner and loser schools where one school had hundreds of students and its neighbour has empty classrooms.

"This idea of bussing people out of where they live to go to another place to 'rescue' them and give them a better opportunity, that is something we need to address at a regional level.

"Every school should be able to serve their local community and that's what we need to work on."

Māngere College principal Tom Webb said his school recently introduced an enrolment scheme after the MoE warned it would need one to cope with an increase in housing in the area.

The MoE's push for more zones would not have a great deal of impact on the school's enrolments because most of the surrounding secondary schools already had zones, he said.

"What does have an impact is when those schools fill up and can't take as many out-of-zones enrolments, the students who would be in our local area will come to us.

"You can see that happening over the last couple of years with more central Auckland schools taking less out-of-zone enrolments because of the in-fill housing and more population growth in the centre of the city."

Webb said families who found themselves unable to send their children to their school-of-choice could be confident that schooling across New Zealand was of an excellent standard.

"People often judge schools on a perception rather than on any sort of clear evidence around what they're doing and my experience is most secondary schools do a great job."

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