Free education

The Ombudsman’s report on a school breaching the rules around school donations is exposing the complex inequalities in the state system and the real cost of running schools.

It is understandable that schools are struggling to cover costs from the operations grant. The cost of modern equipment such as digital technology is huge and the schools are also having to make invidious choices between paying sufficient school support staff and making their school look better than neighbouring schools to keep attracting students.

Some of this can be tracked back to the less inspiring consequences of the “Tomorrow’s Schools” model of the last few decades. Schools are now self-managing, which is great in terms of community participation but has led to a level of competition that costs.

Competition undermines educational collaboration between schools and it also forces schools to market themselves and present themselves as the best of the bunch. Free marketers call this “choice” because they ignore the social context and social impact of competition in what should be a public good environment.

What happened to free local quality public schools? They do still exist but it’s a struggle. I have visited schools who don’t play the game. Some schools limit donations or do not put any pressure on families who cannot afford to pay.

I know of one decile two school who refuses to charge for anything but work as a community to fundraise for school camps. They bulk-buy cheap stationery at sales and they reject the idea that any child should ever be excluded from any school activity because their family cannot afford it.

There is sufficient inequity and exclusion outside school so there is a strong argument for schools being places where equity is fundamental to the culture and practice.

However, the norm has moved a long way from equity between and within schools. Some students in the same high school get a trip to Paris and others have never been to the beach. In some schools students with learning disabilities are welcomed and empowered whatever the cost and at some families are counselled to go down the road because the school is avoiding the costs of inclusion.

These inequities are a reflection of the growing social and economic gaps between our citizens. Hence why the Greens have launched our school hubs policy, which strengthens the relationships between local schools and communities and funds some vital services and programmes such as a school nurse, free after school programmes and school lunch. We also plan to pay a coordinator who can work with each community to develop a school hub based on what they need. This may not solve the problem of unaffordable donations and resource disparity but it can help build community based schools where teachers are not having to be social workers as well as teachers.

There is no simple answer to the Ombudsman’s report, except a huge increase in operations grants, which is not likely. But we need to have the hard conversation – what does free quality public education look like? And what would our country look like if there was a Government commitment to reducing inequity in education rather than fostering it?

9 Comments Posted

  1. I just moves from WLG to AKL Wellington is as great city, but SWMBO has to has be some major surgery so ASKL is the place to be for as few months, or so.
    Shame, a sit own chat would have been good for the soul, and probably the wine industry ! Later in the year maybe. Till then hunt an peck will have to be enough.

  2. Dave… where are you bound? I just moved from the Waikato to Wellington. I like Wellington, not so keen on the Waikato… but I’ve never been comfortable being too far from the beach.

    Whatever it is, it will keep. We’ve had pretty gross inequality since we had tails and swung from trees. Trying to make things more equal is not exactly a new notion, nor an easy one, and it isn’t going to be settled in an afternoon 🙂

    ciao
    BJ

  3. BJ
    Not ignoring you, moving city. Will respon when a proper keyboard is again asvasilsable.

  4. Why should we set things up so that a community is “incentivised” by the need to raise money for things that OTHER communities can simply afford out of their pocket change.

    Your embracing of inequality is so complete you cannot even see where you are applying it. The “wrongness” here is the inequality. I suggest you examine first the right and wrong aspect, and THEN work out where and why the money has to come from whoever it has to come from to make it “right”.

    This is National’s policy and it is WRONG. It was always WRONG to lower top tax and raise GST. It was always wrong to NOT exempt food from the GST.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10783837

    It is FUNDAMENTALLY wrong in a way that exposes the utter lack of any moral or ethical understanding that this is a Country, not a Corporation. We don’t get to make the poor in this country “redundant” so we can stop supporting them.

  5. I know of one decile two school who refuses to charge for anything but work as a community to fundraise for school camps. They bulk-buy cheap stationery at sales and they reject the idea that any child should ever be excluded from any school activity because their family cannot afford it.

    So do you admire them for this? Or is the greens philosophy to do away with this kind of commitment and community spirit, and instead tax the hell out of everyone so that no community is in any way incentivised to do this?

  6. Dave why is are National and its adherents seen as being ENTIRELY focused on money and not on the public good?

    There is no simple answer to the Ombudsman’s report, except a huge increase in operations grants, which is not likely. But we need to have the hard conversation – what does free quality public education look like? And what would our country look like if there was a Government commitment to reducing inequity in education rather than fostering it?

    Is an assertion that there is a problem, and a big one. You ask for it to be “costed” as though that affects the right-and-wrong of it. Your question itself betrays the utter bankruptcy of right-wing thinking, and I don’t even regard you as being seriously right-wing. Just a bit right of center… too much for me perhaps but worth reasoning with mostly…

    Yet you asked this question.

    It is pretty damned obvious to anyone that shirking the duty of the society to its youth because it might cost the wealthy a larger chunk of tax, is working out poorly wherever it is done.

    However, lets go whole hog and ask how many students there are in NZ.

    I see:

    480,000 Tertiary
    760,000 Year 1-15

    We have problems with Tertiary too, but this is about “School Fees” first, and the argument is that we need to supplement schools to the tune of whatever the school fees are and eliminate those fees. OK?

    So taking it at roughly $200/student in the schools the overall cost would be 200×760000 = 152,000,000 – the question then is where that comes from. The government’s economy is a lot larger than this, the real economy is a lot smaller than the government’s version, but still can be large enough.

    I’d have several things in mind to “equalize” things. I can’t speak to the mix the Green Party is going to come up with but the following notions have merit in my view.

    1. Land tax
    2. Capital Gains Tax
    3. CO2 Tax
    4. Reduction in GST (zero would be good)
    5. More and higher tax BRACKETS

    On current form we have massive growth in private debt. It dwarfs government borrowing. That debt is largely housing and property, and the interest on it is lost to us, as profit to offshore banks.

    Overall, the transfer of $152 million from wealthy to SCHOOLS, would be a good thing for New Zealand and you can’t complain that this helps a bunch of ne’er do wells.

    Changing the NZ economy into one in which people have the opportunity to do something other than farming and real-estate is another goal to help level the field, but that’d require more investment in NZ, as opposed to selling off of NZ, to actually work.

    The fact is that I see in almost EVERY National policy, the antithesis of “good for New Zealand” and the promotion of “good for the wealthy”… and not even the wealthy in New Zealand… they’re very catholic about it. It you already have money and you’re from somewhere else National is happy to work for you to the detriment of New Zealand’s poorer citizens. Which is most of us.

    The problem is your question Dave. That you even ask it tells us that you’ve skipped right over the ethical and moral dimensions, and that is something that happens all too many times when National tries to figure out what to do.

    respectfully
    BJ

  7. With District Education Board demolished by Lange in a neo liberal Govt assisted by a private school champion Picot, we have gone backwards.

    Schools have been divided, their support stripped away and left defenseless.

    Systems for managing buildings, development and maintenance facilities, grounds, teacher training, in service training and sharing of skills, fair and relatively unbias selection, appointment and ongoing assessment of staff individually including Principals, provision of professional leadership with School Inspectorate and subjects advisers. Education Boards made strong advocacy for school districts to the Ministry and Govt. They also bought supplies in bulk, managed textbooks and a framework of resources.

    Now you have a NZ School Trustees Association who are toothless, funded by Govt and so are a tame lackey for the minister.

    Schools now stand alone, compete with each other and Principals play a political game with their boards made up of parents.

    Division between Principals and staff have damaged the shape of Primary education and ghettos of unhealthy attitudes have appeared. There are equivalent to Education Board professionals to monitor, mediate and redirect schools or staff on an ongoing basis
    .
    The rich variation of approaches and personalities within schools has been stifled by a Principals appointing staff by proxy if not directly. Nepotism and political / religious / race / sex considerations are not uncommon.

    Wastage of resource engendered with competition and pressure to choose flashy options to attract pupils see school donations now almost universal.

    But education in NZ is compulsory, free and secular as stated in the 1877 act. The arguments for this act are as relevant today as they were then.

    So the system is living a dream outside of its budget and families are the scapegoats with shame being levied on them when they either can’t afford the imposed illegal “fees” or they object to them on principle.

    Some Principal have principles, and will not set so called school fees but permit donations without any public accounting of who may or may not have contributed.

    The real world is that we need our free, compulsory and secular system more than ever.

    We also need to look again at the successful system of area Education Boards or equivalents; funded publicly, appointed by parents and employing professional management of resources with teaching professionals having oversight and direction of the educational process.

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