Editorial: Decile funding doesn't make up for wealth
5:30 AM Tuesday Apr 19, 2011
The league table of school examination results we published yesterday broadly confirms the view within the teaching profession that pupils' family wealth largely determines their educational success. The Ministry of Education gives every school a "decile" rating depending on household incomes in its district and last year's results reflect their socio-economic situation.
In the lowest decile of schools 66 per cent of pupils passed NCEA level 2, regarded as the minimum school leavers need for a reasonable chance in life today. In the next to lowest decile, 67 per cent passed; in decile 3, 70 per cent passed; in decile 4, 71 per cent; decile 5, 80 per cent; decile 7, 83 per cent; decile 9, 87 per cent ... Only one of the 10 deciles (6) scored worse than the category below.
The same pattern occurs for the level 1 examinations. The 10 socio-economic divisions scored, in rising order of wealth, 58, 63, 62, 66, 74, 73, 79, 81, 83, 88 per cent of their pupils passing. At level 3, the progression was 58 per cent, 60, 60, 66, 71, 72, 77, 77, 79, 86.
This consistency is remarkable, the more so because schools are divided into wealth deciles for the purpose of additional funding.
Broadly, the lower the decile the more money it is given on top of its per-pupil allocation. In all but a few categories the decile funding is not enabling the pupils to match the performance of those in the family income category immediately above them, let alone their contemporaries in the wealthiest zones.
This could mean the additional grant is too little, or it could be that no amount of extra money for the school can make up for the educational advantages of wealth at home. Wealth probably means books, computers, musical instruments, holiday travel, extra tuition if needed - a home in which educational success is valued and any cultural, sporting or intellectual interest can be developed.
There are exceptions at both ends of the income scale. It is possible for a low-income household to value education and give children a good supportive environment for study, just as it is possible to find wealthy households that do not value schooling and encourage their children to get out and earn money as early as possible. But generally, it seems, wealth determines exam results.
When league tables are adjusted for income, different schools stand out. In the lowest decile, at Mangakino Area School all pupils who sat level 1 and level 2 passed, as did all those who sat level 1 at Northland Health School, Whangarei. Hastings Boys High School, rated decile 2, did as well as many schools in wealthier places, as did Te Aute College and St Joseph's Maori Girls College in Napier, both decile 3.
Parents can study the tables we published and see how their school compares against the average pass rates for its decile. Parents of pupils at Avondale College have a right to be disappointed, as do those with children at Auckland Girls Grammar, Henderson High School, Kelston Boys, Massey High, Onehunga High, and Hamilton's Melville High and Fairfield College.
In the richer brackets of schools, Auckland Grammar, Takapuna Grammar, Macleans College, Howick College, Westlake Boys, Northcote College, Whangaparaoa College and Tauranga's Otumoetai College all recorded pass rates below the decile average. In some cases their best pupils sit the Cambridge examination but so do those of schools that did better in the national qualification.
Education experts invite us to measure each school's performance in its social setting. But unless schools can do much more to overcome social disadvantage, keen parents who read these tables will do their utmost to get their child into a wealthier zone. Perhaps the lesson is that decile funding must do better.