Compulsory Schooling and Child Poverty

Our Children, Our Choice: Priorities for Policy Series - Compulsory schooling and child poverty

As a society, we have an opportunity to help level the playing field for the poorest children through public education.  Quality schooling, that also addresses children's disadvantages outside the school gate, can help counter the worst effects of poverty and inequality on children's lives.  Schools can contribute to greater justice and equality, by redistributing financial resources so disadvantaged children do not fall further behind their more advantaged peers.

In a new policy report on compulsory schooling, released on July 3, CPAG recommends ten policies which would significantly improve educational achievement for New Zealand's poorest children. 

Download the full report here: Compulsory schooling and child poverty


The Government’s key education indicators at the beginning and end of compulsory schooling show New Zealand’s present schooling system does not enable all students to overcome the effects of poverty and socio-economic disadvantage.

Children’s socioeconomic circumstances are a stronger predictor of their educational success than the quality of teaching.

Children are born into diverse family and community circumstances and poverty alone doesn’t determine schooling failure.  Many factors contribute to a particular child succeeding or failing “against the odds”.   However, compulsory schooling provides an opportunity for the state to mitigate the worst effects of inequality associated with poverty.

The government has taken modest steps in the right direction, but needs to do much more if all children in poverty are to have their rights and interests addressed.

A good start would be to significantly increase per pupil funding to all schools to at least match the OECD average, and if not, to redistribute resources further to children in decile 1-4 schools.

We also need much better data on children’s educational needs when they start school, to help make better decisions about what they need for the rest of their 13 years at school.

CPAG has made ten recommendations to improve compulsory schooling for New Zealand’s poorest children.


Policy Recommendations

1. Develop culturally appropriate measures of new entrant children’s cognitive, affective, behavioural and developmental needs. Use the data to inform decile related school funding allocation decisions.

2. Abandon National Standards because they seem ineffective while disadvantaging poor children’s learning and teaching in low decile schools.

3. Provide a 100% government subsidy in all decile 1-4 secondary schools for NCEA and scholarship examination fees; and provide NCEA subject pathway guidance to tertiary study on entry to secondary school.

4. Provide free breakfast and lunch in decile 1-4 schools.

5. Make all decile 1-4 schools community hubs with a single governance board to cover the integrated provision in the local community of education, health, parenting, budgeting, community law and social services.

6. Provide before and after school and holiday clubs at all decile 1-4 schools.

7. Affirm entitlement to free state education until the age of 18 for all students and encourage diversity of free vocational education pathways.

8. Reduce class sizes in all decile 1-4 primary schools (if necessary by proportionately increasing class sizes in decile 8-10 schools) and provide salary incentives to encourage the best teachers to teach in these schools.

9. Use the Investing in Success funding to build collaborative school and teacher clusters across the socio-economic spectrum.

10. Retain the decile funding system principles, based on need and equality of outcome

Download the full report here: Compulsory schooling and child poverty