The root cause of the Housing Crisis, the Crime Stats, Oranga Tamariki, our lack of Productivity Growth our Prison Population, oh, and our significant education decline

I started teaching in 1991. It is an incredibly frustrating system to be a part of – despite many, many good people being involved and some good intentions. The best analogy I can think of is that the system acts like a human with a pea sized brain, virtually no nervous system to communicate to the organs and limbs as well as being addicted to heroin and always looking for the next quick fix for political expediency.

It is back two years but I was incensed by the public statements and  impression given through a NZ Initiative study.

The initiative found that decile one and decile ten schools had about the same impact on their students’ NCEA and University Entrance results once family background was accounted for.

Dr Hartwich said the showed family background, especially parents’ education, had a massive impact on student performance.”


“All the talk that we’ve had in the last few years about a systemic crisis at the bottom of our education system in the lower is simply not true.

The shows that while lower-decile schools were less likely to produce students that achieve University Entrance, and high-decile schools more likely, once the students’ their socio-economic status was taken into account, the line was largely flat.”

A surface reading of those comments – and that is all that seems to have been given – seemed to say, “nothing to see here and nothing to do”. Shrug of the shoulders – yep -no difference between Decile 10 schools and Decile 1. Well, the NZ Initiative might think the schools are approximately the same but, and here’s the rub (a term only understood by graduates of schools that still do Shakespeare of course) the results are vastly different in individually and societally crippling ways.

Just one example from the very good website Education Counts shows; “students from higher decile schools are more likely to enrol in tertiary education. From the 2018 leaver cohort, 70.0% of school leavers from schools in decile 9 ad 10 enrolled in tertiary education in 2019. This compares with 48.3% of leavers from schools in decile 1 and 2.

Figure 8: Percentage of school leavers in tertiary education one year after leaving school by school2 leaving year by school decile (2013-2018)

“Students from lower decile schools are more likely to enrol in foundation courses, certificates and diplomas than students from higher decile schools. Based on the 2018 leaver cohort, 33.5% of leavers from schools in quintile 1 enrolled in tertiary education in Levels 1 to 7 (non-degree) and 14.8% enrolled in bachelors and above during 2019. In comparison, 17.3% of school leavers from quintile 5 enrolled in levels one to seven (non-degree) and 52.7% enrolled in bachelors and above during 2019.”

15% of school leavers from Decile 1 & 2 enrol in degrees and 53% from 9 & 10.

Dr Hartwich’s statement “the line was largely flat” in terms of school performance unintentionally did a massive disservice to decile 1 to 3 students. The line is no where near flat in terms of results!

Public education was implemented to help students overcome their family setting and history. It was invented (among other reasons) to provide upward mobility and equality of opportunity going into adulthood. To have come all this way and find out that schools’ results accurately reflect family background and do a superb job of maintaining status quo is a terrible result.

The bottom line: Decile 1 – 3 schools have to be significantly better than the rest and the results lines (e.g. for going into tertiary education) should match up regardless of family background. That IS the PURPOSE of State funded education and our nation should be desperate to attain it.

To achieve that the Decile 1 – 3 schools need massive help, they are trying damn hard already, and for the last 20 – 30 years there has been no sign of it. Here are key changes:

– there has to be a huge and well assisted parents as first teachers programme targeted into low socio-economic areas.

– the Primary and Secondary Collective contracts have to be split. With different pay and conditions for teachers working in low decile schools and an assurance of career pathway help after 3 – 5 years in those roles.

– each Decile 1 – 3 schools need a business manager and a Community Liaison manager in support of the Principal – who can then focus on academics.

– the schools need significant support around changing truancy, transience and parental engagement patterns.

– the Ministry of Education needs to be split and a highly motivated, highly qualified, innovative and communicative unit set up with their entire focus (and measured results) being around the effective assistance for decile 1 – 3 schools.

– these schools need to be funded in such a way that is 15 – 20 maximum.

– subject choice guidance in high schools needs to be concentrated on accredited subjects towards UE and the Universities need to get alongside to prevent disasters like this:

– no consideration should be given to the return of Partnership (Charter) Schools. All it would do is give unions another excuse to do some bashing. Instead, we need a better designed Designated Character School system to provide differential delivery for those that need it.

– our entire education system must be geared towards ASPIRATION and having the world’s very best education for all not languishing as the world’s worst English-speaking nation. This requires some genuine inspirational leadership from our Minister (and Associate Ministers), and the Secretary of Education.

All of these changes – and more – are do-able with collective political will (i.e. including the teacher unions). We haven’t done it for the last 30 years and the consequences are more than obvious.

Within a decade these changes would have societal changes that can only be positive and a much larger proportion with be able to plot and walk their own path, keep out of trouble and maybe even buy a house.

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