Better resourced schools, better outcomes for children

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that UNICEF's recently released Innocenti Report Card 13 is clear evidence that Government must shift to a child-centred focus for all areas of policy, with close attention to children's educational needs. Providing for educational needs means better financial planning and resourcing for schools, but also ensuring that children's needs are met in the home so that they have every opportunity to reach their potential.

The report, entitled Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries ranks 41 EU and OECD countries according to how far children at the bottom of the distribution fall below their peers in the middle. Four indicators used to demonstrate are the bottom end of inequality of incomes, educational achievement, health and life satisfaction.

It showed that, in terms of income, New Zealand ranks 17 out of 41 listed countries with 11% of children living in households earning less than 50% of the national median income.

In education, New Zealand ranks 31 out of 37 countries, with 11% of children falling below the lowest proficiency level in PISA reading, mathematics and science tests. This shows an increase in proportion of children achieving below the lowest proficiency levels, from 8% in 2006.

Of the fifteen countries where the achievement gap increased, New Zealand had the fourth highest increase in the size of the gap. In contrast, 21 countries reduced the PISA achievement gap or overall educational disadvantage.

Overall, the countries that are ranked highest for all indicators include four that have similar populations to New Zealand (4-6 million): Denmark, Finland, Norway and Ireland. Compared to New Zealand they showed a much greater expenditure on education per student, with New Zealand spending 40% less per student than leaders. All four countries do better than New Zealand at minimising the educational achievement gap by the end of compulsory schooling. Because these four countries do far better overall in terms of justice and fairness for children, we should probably take note of how they attempt to make their societies fairer and more just.

CPAG spokesperson for Education Professor John O'Neill says, "If New Zealand wants to become a fairer society for disadvantaged children, it could begin by increasing its spending on schooling to the level of similar-sized countries."

The Innocenti report stated that: "If income inequality is widening in most rich countries, that will exacerbate inequality in children’s outcomes, raising important questions about fairness for children."

While it reported only a marginal change in income equality in New Zealand, the income inequality of children living in households that earn less than 50% of the national median will be greatly increasing due to the rising costs of accommodation. This has the potential to impact seriously on the educational achievements of children.

Therese Luxton, CPAG Education and Learning spokesperson said, "Inadequate housing and poor health outcomes affect our most vulnerable children. These directly influence and are partially attributable to the poor educational attainments of disadvantaged children."

Child Poverty Action Group say that income needs must be addressed urgently and schools MUST have the necessary provisions so that children living in material poverty have a greater chance of receiving the all the resources, support and expertise they need to help them achieve by the time they leave school.