EDUCATIONAL reforms intended to benefit children from low-income and ethnic families have failed due to the effects of parental choice, a survey by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research concludes.
The council has measured the effect on primary schools of 10 years of educational change, investigating the impact of the so-called "tomorrow's schools" reforms which introduced self-management through elected boards of trustees.
The 1999 survey, the sixth it has conducted, found some positive effects: parental satisfaction with schools was high, most were happy with the information they received about their child's progress and the morale of principals was higher than it was three years ago when the last national survey was done. Class sizes were smaller, with oly 13 per cent having 30 or more students, half the figure in 1996.
But the survey also found that the losers under the previous system, namely Maori children and those from poor families, remained losers in the new system. Parents are choosing primary schools with few Maori pupils leading to increased "ethnic polarisation".
Even though the schools facing competition were just as likely as others to be trying out new ways of meeting needs, they were still losing students.
"It's not at all clear that making schools compete is necessary to improve student learning or that it's good for the schools and their students. There are some hard questions ahead as primary rolls start to fall from 2002," said Cathy Wylie, the council's senior researcher who conducted the survey.