Labour will replace school decile system with Equity Index, a change 'likely to be disruptive for many schools'

Labour plans to replace the school decile system with an Equity Index, changes Education Minister Chris Hipkins admitted in a 2019 Cabinet paper are "likely to be disruptive for many schools and services". 

But Labour thinks the change is worth it because the current decile system is "blunt", does not reflect the wide range of income levels within schools, and causes stigmatisation. 

Labour wants to introduce an Equity Index which would be based on the circumstances of individual students, rather than the neighbourhood they live in, and it would be updated more regularly than the five-yearly census. 

While originally presented as a "Risk Index" in 2017 by the previous National-led Government, it has since been refocused as an "Equity Index" by Labour to be more closely aligned with child poverty reduction and wellbeing aims. 

The goal is to highlight whether there are socio-economic factors present in the lives of groups of children that require the education system to be structured and resourced in a way that gives all children an equitable chance of success.

Hipkins said on Tuesday Labour plans to replace the decile system with the Equity Index from 2022, despite admitting in a Cabinet paper in September 2019 that it will require a lot of engagement with schools and wider communities. 

"While there is currently high level support for the replacement of the decile system within the education sector, the change to the Equity Index is likely to be disruptive for many schools and services," he said in the paper.  

The new funding system is expected to involve additional funding of $75 million per year, across schooling and early learning. It's part of $1.7 billion Labour is committing to new initiatives as part of its education policy. 

Labour is also promising to retain the first year of the fees-free university programme, despite Finance Minister Grant Robertson admitting in 2019 it had not met its targets

Robertson told the Chamber of Commerce in May last year some $197 million for the fees-free programme would be redirected to the reform of vocational education - merging all 16 of the country's polytechnics under one umbrella. 

Hipkins said on Tuesday Labour will retain the first year of the fees-free programme, but not extend the programme into additional fees-free years as it had originally planned. 

"We will be targeting our additional tertiary education spending in areas that are critical for the country's economic recovery in the post-COVID environment," he said. 

"Initiatives such as free apprenticeships and targeted areas of vocational training will be prioritised, supported by the reform of the Vocational Education System which we will be completing if re-elected.

"As the country rebuilds and more people are looking to retrain, it's now more important than ever that we have a vocational education system that's responsive to the needs of industry and learners."

The National Party has promised to stop Labour's plan to merge the polytechnics and has teased options to replace the fees-free programme, including writing off student loans. 

Labour is also promising to ensure all 17,000 teachers working in education and care centres are paid what they deserve. 

The Government has increased the wages of high school and primary teachers. For example, Q1E entry point teachers with a Diploma of Teaching currently earn $48,410 which went up in July to $49,862 and will go up again next year to $51,358. 

But getting there wasn't a smooth ride, with up to 50,000 primary and high school teachers protesting against their pay in May 2019 - considered to be the largest industrial action New Zealand has ever seen. 

The lowest paid education and care teachers received a pay boost to bring them in line with kindergarten teachers' pay from 1 July this year.  

Hipkins said Labour is committed to continuing to close the pay gap between teachers working in early childhood education and care centres and kindergartens.

Labour will also continue to expand the free lunch programme in schools which has already been rolled out to more than 8000 students. The plan is to expand it to around 200,000 students in 2021, targeting the students with the highest disadvantage.