Education soap opera: One in five: The phrase of our lives

Overview for next episode of ‘One in five: The phrase  of our lives’. 

As usual, the episode to begin with Hekia Parata’s head (tilted back in haughty style) set up as ball in the mouth clown at a fun fair. That fixed and false smile much in evidence as her head swivels from side to side. Swirling around is the caption ‘One in five, take your chance’. A close up shows a ball being shoved with exaggerated gusto into that irritating smile, but the ball is never to reappear. Cut to a smirking John Key with his dopiest of Stan Laurel expressions.

Cut to Parata at a Queenstown conference for independent schools.

She is questioned about the validity of a NZCER report saying that schools in wealthy areas were receiving about $1100 more in funding than their lower decile counterparts.

Never one to take research at face value she responds by saying, “I’m unable to comment on the funding claim.”

She adds, “I would be surprised if it’s accurate, though.”

With a deepening smirk on her face, she says, “We have been so generous, especially to lower decile schools, I’m not surprised some schools have dropped their requests for donations.”

“I don’t like deciles. I never have”. Her expression indicating something deep from within her soul, fundamental to her very being.(You know the expression, it’s her: ‘I’m a mother, too’.)

‘The problem is that it ends up giving more money to children from lower socio-economic areas for no good reason and obviously to no good effect.’

‘Although the intention of the decile system – to recognise different socio-economic challenges – was good. It appears to have become outdated.’

‘Our social welfare and education policies have so improved social equity, we can now move on.’

‘We need to focus more on outcomes rather than blunt proxy.’

‘Anyway, experts have found that four consecutive years of quality teaching eliminated any trace of socio-economic advantage.’

And in what serves now as the way the National government announces new policy, Hekia Parata says with heavy sarcasm: ‘In New Zealand we provide 13 years. You’d think it wouldn’t be too much to expect that four of those are good quality. We are looking at the whole issue.’

It was also a policy announced to people from independent schools, none of whom have anything to do with deciles and decile funding – a deft post-modern touch.

When asked who those experts were she corrects herself by saying she meant ‘expert’, an education economist, Eric Hanushek.

‘Would you be surprised if it’s accurate?’

‘I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. He’s American and the recommendation came from Treasury,’ she says with heartfelt emphasis.

‘The overall trouble is that those schools serving – if that’s the right word – lower socio-economic areas use poverty as an excuse. They can either do something about it, for instance, oh I won’t go into that, but you know what I mean, somehow come up with good results, or suffer the consequences.’

‘Indeed, we are finding teachers are applying for teaching jobs in poverty-stricken areas, just so they can use that as an excuse.’

It is pointed out to her that NZCER had cited a study that said children ‘from poor homes needed 40 per cent to 100 per cent more funding for each child to provide equitable learning opportunities.’

‘Where did that come from?’

‘America and a prestigious university.’

‘I’m unable to comment on that funding claim.’

She adds, ‘I’d be surprised if it’s accurate, though.’


Cut now to Hekia Parata’s office, Hekia is there plus sister and two Treasury officials. They are discussing a Treasury paper T2011/2429, headed: ‘Implementing change in schooling over the next three years.’ [This document is discussed in]  it is a step-by-step policy guide to introducing contestability and bulk funding into secondary and primary schools.

She reads: ‘Contestable performance reward based on improved student performance demonstrated by value added data using PaCT.’

Hekia is beaming, ‘I’m loving it.’


‘We will use the four-year Hanushek rule,’ thumping the desk with glee.

‘That will give notice to those soon-to-be weeded out intermediates?’

;And think of those schools where every four years there is a near complete turnover of roll. They won’t know whether they are Arthur or Martha.’

‘When they attempt to use the turnover as an excuse, I will say, “Well you ought to lift the quality of the school’s teaching so they won’t leave.”‘

‘And those poor fools who put out statements welcoming the review will find the deciles still there as part of the contestable process.’

‘This one-in-five policy is working a treat.’

‘Now what can we do about the public perception?’

‘That’s here minister, in column one under the heading of expanding the debate: “Utilise engagement process associated with Long term Fiscal Statement process to socialise key education cost/quality issues with the public.”‘

‘Brilliant. What does it mean?’

‘That’s right above it minister: “Engage with business leaders/representatives to discuss literacy and numeracy; success or otherwise for further change from demand side perspective.”‘

[Please note: Most of the Hekia Queenstown comments at Queenstown are actual comments or in the spirit of those comments. Check the Southland Times for report on what she actually said.]

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