Herald says abolish zoning

June 28th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial:

Ironically, “the right to attend the nearest school” was the principle advanced by a previous Epsom MP, Christine Fletcher, to have zoning restored in a partial reversal of the competitive elements of the “Tomorrow’s Schools” reform. But withdrawing that right from future residents is only one possible solution Mr Seymour has proposed. Another, he suggests, would be to block students who lived in the zone without their parents. He says schools have told him of foreigners buying a house in the zone, staying just long enough to gain permanent residency and their child’s enrolment, then leave the child here with relatives or acquaintances.

His third and most obvious suggestion is to build more high schools in the area. The Ministry of Education bought land for a new school from the Auckland Trotting Club in 1999 but the school has not eventuated. It was opposed by residents who feared for their real estate values. The restoration of zoning has created a monster capable of defeating the ministry’s reasonable plans. Mr Seymour’s proposal to pull up the drawbridge against new arrivals may be the only political solution but it would be simpler to abolish zones and restore schools’ freedom to enrol aspirants from anywhere.

That is my preferred policy. You’d need a safeguard where the Ministry can direct a school to take a student if say they have not been accepted into any school within 5 kms (urban) and 50 kms (rural), but otherwise leave it to parents and schools.

The current zoning system gives choice only to those who can afford to buy a house in the zone foor the school they want.

How about letting parents and kids decide?

November 21st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT reports:

Dunedin secondary school pupils may be forced to attend the school nearest to them if one option proposed by the Ministry of Education is adopted.

The ministry has put up for discussion four options for improving the efficiency of the Dunedin secondary schools network.

It is efficient to force people to attend a certain school, but that doesn’t mean it is right. Educational outcome is more important than efficiency and if parents want to send their kids to a further away school, they should be able to.

Roll figures for 2015 show the city’s secondary schools have capacity for 9252 pupils, but 1513 spaces are not used in Dunedin – the equivalent of two secondary school rolls.

To make the network more efficient, option one is to implement a system in which the majority of an area’s pupils attend their local schools.

In other words force people to attend a school they don’t want to. This means poorly performing schools will not lose students, and hence have no incentive to improve.

A solution to Epsom school zoning

September 7th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Daily Media Review looks at the problem of the two popular schools in Epsom being near capacity. He quotes David Seymour who says:

If the current trend of intensification continues either

a) the schools will grow beyond being able to operate the way that attracted people in the first place.
b) the zones will have to shrink cutting people out
c) a new school divides the zones in half cutting ppl out

In any of those cases people lose out heavily.

My suggestion is allowing the BoT’s [board of trustees] to put a date on their zone (not retrospectively).’

The author doesn’t like the idea that someone who buys a new apartment or house in Epsom would not be deemed in zone, but someone who rents an existing place would be.

He proposes a new school, such as:

The problem raised by Mr. Seymour with regards to introducing a new school is that it would cut the Grammar school zone in half, and the property values of those excluded from the zone would be reduced as a result, but why should the new school interfere with the existing Grammar zone in any way? I feel the following solution will keep all parties happy, including the schools, the current property owners, landlords, apartment owners, etc, and will be more in accord with the principles the ACT party promotes:

Why not retain the current school zones for Auckland Grammar, Epsom Girls Grammar, and St. Peters College, and apply the very same or overlapping school zone to the new school? Parents will have the ability to apply to all 3 of the current schools as well as the new school, and when any of the schools reach capacity the excess students can be accommodated at the remaining schools. This option would give the current schools the opportunity to shrink their school numbers should they need to, and all property owners would still remain in the Grammar school zone and the value of their properties would remain the same – the school zone might even be able to expand.

This option also has the added benefit of being in alignment with the principles of the ACT Party, in that the 3 current schools and the new school would have to compete with each other for students in the area, and academic results and standards would be the draw card to the parents.

I quite like this option. It allows for competition and choice.


Maybe the answer is to abolish zoning?

August 31st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Auckland’s two most exclusive state schools have looming roll dilemmas due to a property boom predicted to surge student numbers.

More than 1800 apartments will be completed in the Auckland Grammar zone within three years, with 600 of those also falling in the Epsom Girls’ Grammar area. …

Auckland Grammar’s headmaster Tim O’Connor said it was actively working with the ministry, including talks about the development of new schools.

“We have 2500 on the roll, that’s at capacity. And we don’t want to be any bigger than we are,” Mr O’Connor said. “But there’s no silver bullet. We have to be aware of demand and everyone understands that.”

Act’s Epsom MP David Seymour said he was opposed to zone shifts – he headed a campaign when two nearby schools proposed overlapping their zones into the area last year – and to intensification.

One idea was to make a rule so that students in new houses would not be included in the zone, he said. There was a need to balance the needs of people who lived in Epsom with the “interests of developers who want to develop property and sell an education with that property”.

At present wealthy families buy an Auckland Grammar or EGGS education by paying several hundred thousand dollars more for a house in the zone. This effectively makes those schools more expensive than the most exclusive private schools. However the money doesn’t go to the schools, but to the previous land owners.

Here’s what I would do:

  1. Abolish all zones. Any prospective pupil can apply to any school, and if a school has more applications than capacity, they either decline some, or they grow and become bigger. Not much different from applying to universities and hostels.
  2. Set a maximum distance a student has to travel to school. This may differ in urban and rural areas. It might be say 10kms in a city and 50 kms in a rural area.
  3. If a student is unable to get an acceptance to a school within the maximum distance from their house, then the Ministry of Education has residual power to direct a school to take them. This might not be the very closest school to them, but one within an acceptable distance

This would get rid of the wealth barrier to schools like Grammar and EGGS.  Having rich parents who can afford a house in Epsom would no longer be the only way to attend schools like that.

Let students decide

May 11th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT reports:

The Ministry of Education is being asked to step up and take responsibility for finding a solution to the city’s declining secondary school rolls, rather than asking the schools’ leaders to solve the problem. …

Solutions proposed by school leaders so far include closing one or more secondary schools in the city, establishing enrolment zones or implementing roll caps.

But what is the problem?

The ministry has encouraged the discussions because the latest March roll overall figures show Dunedin secondary school rolls have dropped by 743 pupils between 2005 and 2015, equivalent to the size of a secondary school.

Adding to concerns is the imbalance in pupil enrolments, where pupils are flooding into a select few schools, such as King’s High School, at the expense of other schools.

I don’t regard that as a problem. That is families and students exercising choice.

Bayfield High School principal Judith Forbes said it was great the ministry had asked schools to contribute to the discussion, but she, too, believed it was unlikely schools would agree on a solution.

She said her ideal solution would be a cap on all Dunedin secondary rolls.

In other words punish the schools that are succeeding, reward the schools that are doing less well, and remove choice from students and parents.

Wouldn’t a better discussion be to determine why so many students are wanting to attend King’s High School, and try to emulate that elsewhere?

Coddington on zoning

August 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Deborah Coddington writes:

With preschoolers we look around for an early childhood centre we think suits our needs, is convenient in terms of distance from home and work, and within budget – usually in that order. Then the government subsidies per child go to the provider.

When we go to tertiary training we choose where, geographically, we wish to study. If you live in Auckland, you are not restricted to Auckland University; likewise Dunedinites are not zoned for Otago University.  As a tertiary student, you choose, and the government funding for your qualification follows you to the tertiary provider.

But for some reason we do not trust families to choose their children’s primary and secondary schooling. 

I’d abolish all zoning, but have a reserve power for the Ministry of Education to force a school to take a student if there is no other school available within say 30 minutes travel.

The only winners from this policy are property owners and real estate agents.

Zoning means rich families get choices, but poor families do not.

It does not have to be like this. The Netherlands abolished zoning in 1917. The state pays for education while parents choose the school. 

But that will never happen here because of two powerful interest groups – wealthy property owners in grammar zones, and teacher unions. Both have a vested interest in this archaic system.

So governments will continue telling families that bureaucrats know which school is best for their children.


Choice bad in Hamilton

January 28th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Hundreds of students are on waiting lists for Hamilton’s most popular high schools while others are struggling to fill their rolls before the start of term.

Competition for positions at the city’s most in-demand schools has seen some families move house to skip the queue.

However, the blatant preference for some schools over others has renewed calls for parents to send their children to the school closest to home.

“There are unfortunate consequences from school choice and I think you’re seeing that potentially play out in the Waikato,” Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Angela Roberts said.

Flight from one school – “which isn’t necessarily because the school is any worse than the school they’re flying to” – is often based on perception, rather than reality, she said.

But often it isn’t. There is a reason parents want Hamilton Boys’ High School over Fairfield College.

Zoning is stupid, because it still preserves choice – it just restricts it to wealthy people who can buy or rent in the right zone.

I’m all for choice. But for those against choice, I have a solution they should promote.

All students in a city get randomly assigned to a school within say 10 kms of them. No choice at all.

If choice is such a bad thing, with parents making decisions based on perception, this policy would stop it. I look forward to it being Labour or Green party policy!

$1,000 is the smallest part of the cost of Grammar

January 26th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The HoS report:

A top Auckland secondary school is asking parents to shell out more than $1,000 when their sons return to class in two weeks’ time.

Auckland Grammar is the first state school to crack the four-figure mark for school donations, making it the country’s most expensive.

Parents are expected to pay $1,050 for their boys to attend the decile-10 school.

The $1,000 a year “donation” is a trivial cost for those attending Grammar. Zoning laws mean that you have to pay around $500,000 more to buy a property in the Grammar zone.

Why school zoning should go

November 9th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

What a difference a zone makes. In this case, try $500,000.

Experts say there has always been a difference in price for properties located within the double-grammar zone for Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar, but the gap is widening as the city’s average house price continues to hit record highs each month.

One Mt Eden home just 750m outside of the area went for $516,000 less than a house just up the road, valued the same but situated 250m within the zone, which cuts off south of Balmoral Rd.

It is outrageous that school zoning means that poorer families can’t get to have a chance for their kids to attend Auckland Grammar.

I’d get rid of school zoning, and allow the popular schools to expand to whatever size they wish to be. They could do satellite campuses. You could have a reserve power for the Ministry to direct a school to take a student if they can’t get into any school say within 10 kms of where they live.

Pupils do not belong to a school

January 24th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Schools in Christchurch’s west need to stop enrolling so many pupils from struggling schools in the east, an Aranui principal says.

Aranui High School principal John Rohs is even calling on the Ministry of Education to intervene before rolls in the east fall even further.

More young people from the east were travelling further afield to go to high school, he said.

A pupil doesn’t belong to the school they live closest to. If families are choosing to go to schools further afield, the problem is not them making that choice. The problem is why they do not find the local school satisfactory.

Ministry figures released to The Press under the Official Information Act show three state co-educational schools in the city’s west have increased the number of out-of-zone pupils since 2009. They deny deliberately poaching pupils from the east.

The figures show Burnside High School had 125 out-of-zone pupils in 2009, or 5 per cent of its roll, and last year it had 423 (17 per cent).

But Burnside High School principal Warwick Maguire said the ministry figures were wrong. He said the school consistently enrolled about 20 to 25 per cent of its pupils from out-of-zone each year and was trying to reduce its out-of-zone numbers, not increase them.

The school, which has a roll of 2600 pupils, could have taken a lot more out-of-zone pupils than it did this year, Maguire said.

It had 750 out-of-zone pupils take part in the ballot to start at year 9 this year and the school took about 480, which was fewer than last year.

“If we took all the people that wanted to come here we would be 3000-plus and that would have a bad effect on other schools.”

My concern is the effect on the achievement levels of students, not on schools. Let Burnside be 4,000 if they wish to be I say.

A solution to zone fixing – abolish them!

June 27th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Principals and the Green Party are calling for a review of the Tomorrow’s Schools model which they say has caused secondary schools to adjust school zones and cherry-pick students.

Concern has mounted after a report by a visiting United States scholar found most Auckland secondary schools were zone-fixing – intentionally skewing their enrolment zones to improve their decile rating.

Principals say zone-fixing is nothing new and competition between schools has grown since the Tomorrow’s Schools model was introduced under David Lange in 1989.

There should be competition between schools. Parents should get a choice.

One has to understand that zoning does not operate in isolation. Say you have two schools in town. School A has 800 pupils and is at capacity and hence has a home zone. School B has 500 pupils with capacity for 600, and 200 of them would like to go to School A, but can not.

The problem is the Ministry will not allow the popular School A to grow, because the nearby School B is under capacity. So School A has a zone, excluding those outside it.

The actual solution is to allow schools to grow, when they are popular – even if there is surplus capacity at other schools.

Now people say pupils should be allowed to enrol at their closest school. I agree.  If a school is physically unable to grow any larger, then priority must go to locals. But schools should be allowed to grow to their maximum capacity if they are competent and popular, and this may even involved multi-campuses.

So I’d have two policies, to replace zoning.

  1. Every pupil has the right to attend the school they are geographically closest to (by travel on road)
  2. Every school is allowed to expand to as large as its board of trustees wants, with funding being per pupil

This would provide much better choice.

Orwell strikes again

February 2nd, 2010 at 4:05 pm by David Farrar

Around 9 pm last night Trevor Mallard made a rather bizarre post on Red Alert. And presumably one of his colleagues stepped in and hid it from view as it disappeared for around several hours.

One would have thought they would have learnt from the Chris Finlayson episode, that it is a bad idea to delete stuff you regret, as it is cached and stored all over the place.

As people on Red Alert asked what happened to it, it then reappeared a few hours later.George Orwell would be proud his novels were so accurate!

The post was rather stupid, to be blunt. It says/said:

It is going to be interesting to see how hard the Nats push their policy of shifting from a pretty strict zoning system based on a right to enrol if in zone to giving flexibilty to schools to pick and choose students.

Being in the Auckland Grammar zone increases the value of a house by between $100 and $150k, it will be interesting to see how Nikki Kaye balances her pretty extreme free market views with the writing off of property values.

Big + for Jacinda I think.

I know Labour are desperate to try and talk the Auckland Central race up, but really describing Nikki as holding “pretty extreme free market views” is hilarious. All I can say is that whatever Trevor is inhaling needs to be reclassified from Class C to Class A!!

More to the point, Trevor needs to visit Auckland more often. The Auckland Grammar zone is here. Almost none of it is actually in Auckland Central. It is almost all in Epsom and Mt Albert. I can only presume he was desperately trying to come up with an issue, and this is the best he could come up with.

The only parts that are in zone are the CBD on and east of Queens Street, and Grafton. Now I don’t think anyone thinks many families live in CBD apartments, and their value is not greatly affected by the Grammar zone (look at apartment values on Queen St vs Albert St). So that only leaves Grafton which is around 5% of the electorate.

I do like the fact that Trevor defends school zoning on the basis that house values in Epsom will decrease too much if one makes it more flexible. Good to see Labour focused on helping kids get the best education.

Incidentally, while I think it is very unlikely the Grammar zone will disappear, I would say it would be incredibly popular in the other 95% of Auckland Central, as their parents would get a choice of schools.

UPDATE: Clare Curran has commented that the Red Alert post disappeared due to a technical glitch, and it was not done deliberately.