17 Mar 2017

Lack of Pākehā in low-decile schools worries principals

8:28 am on 17 March 2017

The ongoing concentration of Pākehā students in high-decile schools is bad for society, say educators.

One of several low-decile schools where enrolments by Pākehā students have plummeted.

One of several low-decile schools where enrolments by Pākehā students have plummeted. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

Last year only 24 percent of Pākehā children went to schools in deciles one through five, down from 40 percent in 2000, and very slightly lower than when RNZ first reported on the trend in 2012.

The change is partly because some schools with a lot of Pākehā students have got a higher decile number in the past 15 years.

However, some low-decile school principals told RNZ's Insight programme their Pākehā enrolments had plummeted in the past 15 years as families moved out of their neighbourhood or chose schools in richer neighbourhoods with better average academic results.

The principal of Cosgrove School in Papakura, Gus Klein, told Insight his school's Pākehā enrolments had dropped from about 50 percent to 13-14 percent.

He said the school was still a good one, but the mix of students was not as broad as it used to be.

"Even though we've got fantastic kids here, we're not getting that mix of abilities within a classroom ... and to me that's a shame."

At Edgewater College in Auckland, Pākehā enrolments dropped significantly over the past 20 years.

The principal Allan Vester said he was happy with his school, but the national situation signalled a potentially significant problem.

"Nationwide there's been a drift apart of the schools and lower decile schools are increasingly Māori and Pasifika and I think that's bad for society," he said.

"The society that kids go out into is very mixed and I think it's helpful to have students educated in that mix as well."

The principal of Huntly College, Tim Foy, said his Pākehā enrolments had fallen a lot since 2000 and he too was troubled by the national figures.

"It does worry me, it does concern me and I think it's something the ministry or government need to address and say look, choice is one thing but it's not choice for all, it's a very limited choice in some cases."

The chief executive of education trust COMET Auckland, Susan Warren, said many Māori and Pasifika families also bypassed low-decile schools and that was concentrating disadvantage in some schools.

"What's left are the kids from families who don't have the resources for that bus fare, don't have the ability to get the kids organised in time to travel across town, those sort of things. Yes there's more diversity of who is travelling, it's still actually socio-economically not that diverse."

Susan Warren said that had implications for society because children and families from different backgrounds were not getting the opportunity to mix and learn how to get along.

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