Monday, 13 March 2017

Review of education funding systems - Threat or opportunity for NZ Rural Schools?

Following on from an earlier post about Rural NZ - A great place to live and learn, here is some context of what is happening in the educational landscape at the moment.

We are currently going through the process of legislative change and a funding review that will have the biggest impact on NZ schools since 1989 and the introduction of Tomorrow's Schools. For more on Tomorrow's Schools see Langley, 2009; Wylie, 2013.

The Education (Update) Amendment Bill proposes a range of changes, of particular relevance to my study is Communities of Online Learning (or CoOLs), which has been the most contested and provocative part of the bill. I write about this in another post.

The Education Funding System Review, that sits alongside the proposed legislative changes, has been in the consultation phase since last year (I recommend that you read the Cabinet Paper that sits behind what is on the MoE website) There has been one change of tack to the original proposal when teacher unions pushed back on Global Funding mechanism - this was seen as another way of bulk funding schools that was so strenuously opposed in the early 2000s. The reasons given for not proceeding with the global budget was
"schools indicated that the current system of funding delivery generally works well and can provide the flexibility required"..."Moreover, it is clear that neither principals nor teachers yet have confidence in governance and management to make good choices about the mix of inputs necessary to meet the educational challenge for their students." 
That last phrase is dynamite and should be of concern if the Minister thinks that after more that 20 years of self governance school leaders lack the skills to make good choices. Without going further into the politics of the discussion in this paper - here are the key points in relation to small and rural schools:

 The Proposed Model of Funding

26.1 a core funding model in both early learning and state and state integrated schools made up of two components:
26.1.1 a curriculum-based per-child funding amount - linked to the learning expectations of children and young people at each stage of the curricula. In early learning, this involves moving to per-child funding. In schooling, this involves a review of funding levels at each stage of the curriculum;
26.1.2 additional funding for individual challenges: targeted additional achievement allocation - for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and to replace the current decile system and better align funding to the actual curriculum-based achievement challenge; learning support (special education) allocation - for those learning support needs that services and schools are expected to meet from within their funding;
26.2 for small and isolated early learning services and state and state integrated schools, supplementary funding to enable the maintenance of a network of provision;
Of importance to rural and small schools is section 70 - 73:

Defining small and isolated services and schools
70 To support education provision being located as close as reasonably possible to families, I propose supplementary funding for small and isolated services and schools. This takes into account population densities in rural and provincial areas and our objectives for choice and diversity in education provision, including for Maori medium education. 
71 Small schools face fixed costs in administration and curriculum delivery, including in providing subject choice at the senior secondary level. Isolated services and schools can face extra costs related to both teaching and learning and accessing trades and services. These services and schools would not be educationally viable if they received only the curriculum based per-child funding amount and the additional funding amount for individual challenges. 
72 I am seeking to develop an approach to these services and schools that provides the minimal additional funding necessary, supports our objective of increased collaboration across  and system,  and takes into account  the potential  over  time for  Communities  of
Learning I Kahui Ako  and for Communities  of Online  Learning  to mitigate  some of  the costs in the operation of small schools, including those associated with providing curriculum breadth. 
73 The first stage of this work involves establishing a coherent basis for defining small and isolated services and schools. The second stage of this work involves determining the extra costs that these services and schools face in maintaining a viable provision and, hence, the funding that they require over and above that provided by the core funding model. There is a close relationship between this work and that related to the per-student funding amount.

I can understand the need to simplify a complicated system, I can understand the benefits of network provision across schools, I can see a need for equity across our schooling system, I believe to move forward we need to make changes, and change is challenging. However lets make sure that we do this while retaining what is special about our small rural schools, and not just focusing solely on 'progress that can be measured at each level of the curriculum'.

If you are a supporter of our small rural schools, I would be watching this review process carefully, talking with Principals in your local schools and advocating on their behalf.

Langley, J., & Cognition Institute. (2009). Tomorrow’s schools 20 years on-. Auckland, N.Z.: Cognition Institute. Retrieved from

Wylie, C. (2013). Tomorrow’s schools after 20 years: can a system of self-managing schools live up to its initial aims? The New Zealand Annual Review of Education0(19). Retrieved from

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