Low-decile schools face cash trials
Mistaken perceptions of the quality of low-decile schools are leading to a record number of schools going into statutory management over financial problems, principals say.
The Ministry of Education made more statutory interventions in financially-troubled Wellington schools last year than in the previous four years combined, according to Ministry of Education figures released under the Official Information Act.
The new principal of one of them, Mana College, said one of the reasons was the unfairness of the financial selfmanagement model introduced under the Tomorrow’s Schools reforms in 1989.
‘‘It’s not a level playing field, and the funding formula for that playing field is out of kilter, ‘‘ said John Murdoch, who took over Mana College this month after it was put into statutory management last year.
The model allocates funding per student, using a decile system where lower-income areas get more.
School boards that avoided financial problems had members who were good at long-term strategic planning, fundraising, advocacy and marketing, he said.
‘‘Other schools get bogged down into just getting through the year and managing what little resource they have.
‘‘If you’re basing a funding model on bums on seats, then schools with a roll in decline have less with which to build up their reputation to address that.’’
Murdoch called for more financial training for boards and principals, and for the ministry to intervene sooner when problems emerged.
Changes to legislation, alongside increased emphasis on national standards, technology and ‘‘modern learning environments’’, meant they were constantly expected to do more with fixed, or shrinking, funding.
In 2015, there were 17 statutory interventions in schools nationwide where financial problems were among the reasons. This continued a threeyear rise, with eight financial interventions in 2012, 14 in 2014 and 16 in 2014.
Seven of the 2015 interventions were in the Wellington region, where there were only two with a financial aspect in the previous four years.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said the decile system often created a ‘‘stigma’’, which was especially unwelcome if a school’s roll was already dropping. Being put into statutory management often worsened that, he said.
Mana College principal John Murdoch says the current system is not a level playing field.