Principals have indicated general support for the new Equity Index, but reservations around its efficacy in improving student outcomes.
The findings come from NZCER’s latest National Survey of Secondary Schools, which has analysed responses from a representative sample of secondary principals in Aotearoa. For the first time, the survey has included questions about the Equity Index, giving valuable insight into how the new system compares to the previous decile system.
What is the Equity Index?
From January 2023, the decile rating system in NZ schools was replaced by the Equity Index (EQI) system—a new model for determining the level of additional financial assistance that each school would be eligible for, in addition to their core operational funding.
This will allow schools to make local decisions about how best to support students who face socioeconomic barriers to achievement. Whereas the decile system was based on a broad estimate of the socioeconomic status of the community in which a school is located, the new EQI uses a finer-grained calculation to both identify need and to allocate funding.
The timing of the principals’ survey provided a valuable opportunity to collect baseline data about principals’ perceptions of this complex change - and how well it is working.
Principals’ preference is clear – but with some caveats
The National Survey shows that 73% of principals prefer the equity index to the decile system. When asked about support for the Equity Index on its own, this dropped to 66%, with 31% responding neutrally.
Sixty percent of principals agreed or strongly agreed that the new system will result in more accurate targeting of resources, but fewer (41%) thought it would reduce stigma associated with socioeconomic status.
Overall, there were relatively high percentages of neutral responses to Equity Index questions, from 22% to 33% - which likely reflects how new the system is, and the minimal time schools have had to become acclimatised to it and form a clear-cut opinion.
Impacts of Equity Index more of a mixed bag
On the flow-down impacts for students, principals were more mixed in their response. While 53% of principals agreed the Equity Index would give them operational funding more in line with the socioeconomic challenges their students face, 29% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.
Nearly half of principals were also neutral about the index’s ability to increase academic achievement or engagement for students facing socioeconomic barriers at school, while 24% of principals actively disagreed with this idea.
What principals say about the Equity Index – in their own words
As part of the survey, NZCER invited principals to provide comments highlighting some of the ongoing challenges they feel the Equity Index may not address.
Some principals remarked that the changes were an accurate representation of the funding required for their school, whereas others found they received less funding at a time when their ākonga demographics are changing rapidly and require more support.
Others noted that funding will barely keep pace with inflation, and that the index doesn’t change the general underfunding of schools.
“I think the theory of the Equity Index is sound. In reality in my school, there has been a change in demographic of students, with increasing social and emotional needs. There has been little change to the funding I receive, in fact less funding. Therefore I have answered disagree to all sections of question.”
“This is a much more accurate representation of our community and it is positive to be funded as such”
“The index itself won’t change educational outcomes, it is a funding mechanism. It is us that impact student outcomes.”
Further findings – including on governance, key issues facing schools and supporting Māori and Pacific students – are available in the full National Survey of Secondary Schools report here.