21 Jul 2015

School policy could bring major funding change

7:16 am on 21 July 2015

The government's flagship education scheme has been billed as the biggest change in education since the Tomorrow's Schools reforms of 1989 and may be about to get even bigger.

It has been revealed that the Investing in Educational Success scheme could result in major changes to the way schools are funded and organised.

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Photo: 123rf

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she had discussed devolving responsibility for property and funding decisions to the groups of schools formed under the $155 million a year programme.

This would be a major change to the scheme, which groups schools together in "communities" to tackle common education problems, with some of their teachers paid more to lead the work.

"The creation of Communities of Schools provides an opportunity to trial different ways of doing things," said Ms Parata.

"The possibility of Communities of Schools taking greater responsibility for property and funding decisions has been discussed with officials, but no decisions have been taken.

"Similarly, there have also been discussions, but no decisions, about offering Communities of Schools a bigger say in how resources for special education are used.

"It may be we get better outcomes if decisions are made at the community level by schools working together to determine how best to support their kids."

Ms Parata's comments come after Education Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey told Radio New Zealand's Insight about the potential for giving more responsibility to groups of schools.

"Anything now that requires decisions to be made across more than one school by and large has to be done at the ministry level and that really doesn't make sense when you think about it.

"Take for example decisions about schools, and how many you have, and where you have them, and whether you open them or whether you close them - those sorts of decisions would be much better made across and within communities of schools than by the ministry."

Ms Casey said it was possible that within five years schools could be making such decisions themselves.

"They might make their own decisions about what schooling they have within their community. And there might well be incentives to help them to do that.

"If they decide that they might want to merge schools within their community or change the schooling, it might be that that generates savings for their community."

The national secretary of the NZEI education union, Paul Goulter, said the government was making a lot of changes to the school system and many teachers were suspicious.

"What's happening at the moment goes a long way further than what we're being told and that's why the sector as a whole is suspicious of what the government's trying to do.

"What we're saying to government is 'why don't you come clean about what system change you want to introduce and actually work with the sector around that'."

President of the Post Primary Teachers' Association Angela Roberts said it was worth talking about devolving responsibility to groups of schools, but they were not yet ready for such a big step.

"As far as IES goes, which is schools learning to share quite a small part actually of their resource, is a very new thing and it's proving to be quite difficult because we haven't operated collaboratively like that for a very long time.

"I think we are a long way away from sharing the wider resources of the wider community."

President of the Principals' Federation Denise Torrey said the idea was interesting, but needed work.

"We'd probably agree that it has potential as an idea, because if it it was fully resourced, schools could make local decisions around local needs and I think that's a good thing. But there are lots of risks about it."

She said the biggest risk was that big schools would dominate their local clusters, and bully, or even close, smaller schools in their area.

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