CPAG welcomes new and improved Tomorrow’s Schools

A new Education Work Programme that focuses on inclusive education, reducing barriers to participation and improving children’s outcomes is welcomed by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The past nine years of education in Aotearoa-New Zealand have been characterised by outcomes-focused schooling that has shown little sign of improving the quality and enjoyment of children’s learning. ‘Standards’ related stress and stigma have increased for children, particularly among those from low-income backgrounds or who have special needs. Increased administration and compliance for teachers has undermined the provision of quality education.

National Standards have narrowed learning, and led to schools being forced to discard vital aspects of holistic primary schooling. Children in low decile communities have suffered most under this model.

Continued low levels of operational funding have meant that children with disabilities do not have the same access to quality education as their non-disabled peers, while schools serving low-decile communities continue to have reduced budgets due to a lack of voluntary contributions, compared to higher decile schools who report much more substantial overall incomes.

The cabinet paper proposes to:

  • “place learners at the centre of the education system with a much greater focus on personalised learning, strong foundations and lifelong learning … focus on learning environments that are culturally and socially responsive.”
  • “[Break] down barriers to participation at all levels with a particular focus on breaking down the financial barriers by returning to the principle of a free public education that is available to all New Zealanders throughout their lives.”

“Putting children back at the centre of our education system means significantly enhanced funding and staffing  to compensate for the inequalities of everyday life that children living in income poverty and material hardship households bring with them into the classroom,” says Professor John O’Neill CPAG education spokesperson.

CPAG says that a genuinely free education will relieve financial pressures on low-income households, and improve the likelihood that children will attend school more regularly, and experience the joy of learning in a well-resourced, stimulating environment.

“New Zealand’s private household expenditure on education is 30% higher than the OECD average. Things like uniforms, digital stationery and NCEA fees all pose as "hidden costs" which impact enormously on low-income households," says Professor O’Neill.

“It is imperative that household expenditure on education is reduced to the OECD average, and pressure lifted from parents to subsidise inadequate government expenditure. Increasing household incomes significantly will also ensure that children aren’t kept home from school when there is no money for lunch, sanitary items, or they experience poverty-related illness - all of which has detrimental effects on children’s learning and educational outcomes.”

“Higher teacher-to-student ratios and increased operational funding should be prioritised so that low-income schools have the resources they need to ensure that all children, including those with special needs, have access to a quality education. To ensure schools get the resources they need education professionals and whānau must be fully involved in the consultation process for the 2018 Work Programme.”

Dr Vicki Carpenter says the intended review of Tomorrow’s Schools will be a welcome improvement to outdated policy that has produced nearly thirty years of “winners and losers in the schooling system.”

“The winners have usually been Decile 4-10 schools. Self-governance in such schools has been relatively easy and comfortable, as particular areas of professional expertise (eg lawyers, accountants) are readily available in such communities, or through known networks.” says Dr Carpenter.

“All schools struggle financially at times, but the wealthier the school community the smaller and less frequent the struggles. For schools serving low-decile communities the last three decades of under-resourcing and lack of specialist support have meant that many have been branded as ‘loser’ schools through no fault of their own.”

“A fairer and more equitable education system is likely to be the outcome of this policy review, and we warmly welcome that.”