Outside classroom funding rethink needed

The Ministry of Education’s decision to cut funding to at least four Otago providers of education outside the classroom has not been received well locally.

This year’s change from what had been known as Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC), now called Enriching Local Curriculum (ELC) meant some alteration to the selection criteria.

According to the ministry, the new scheme has a greater focus on wellbeing, identities, languages and cultures, better supports all learners, including the neurodiverse, gifted and those at risk of disengaging from education, stronger Maori coverage, and more access for Pacific learners.

Among the changes were requirements for more alignment with the New Zealand Curriculum, delivering broad curriculum outcomes rather than focusing on specific subject areas, providers having a meaningful bicultural partnership with mana whenua, programmes using some Maori language, and inclusion of early learning services. A more equitable spread of funding across regions was also proposed.

(Under the old system, Otago had eight providers while Southland had none, according to the ELC website.)

Groups competed for the new fund worth a total of about $19 million nation-wide over the next three and a-half years.

(We are unsure how that compares with the LEOTC funding as our inquiry on that has not yet been answered.)

Roughly half of those who applied missed out, with the ministry choosing 72 of the 146 applicants.

This seems a high failure rate. In Otago/Southland, five of 10 applicants were successful. Were all the losers way off the mark?

There is yet to be an announcement listing successful applicants, even though the new contracts were supposed to start at the beginning of this month.

The reason given is that contracts are still being finalised.

The application documents included information about how applications would be assessed by an unnamed evaluation panel which included those with expertise in Maori and Pacific education, early learning and the curriculum, and representation from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

It is difficult to tell what, if any, input there was locally.

Odd, when enriching local curriculum is what is involved.

Schools who had happily used the losing programmes in the past and would like to do so again face having to pay significantly more now, money they cannot force pupils to pay because these experiences are curriculum related.

Parents are facing the high cost of living in every area of their lives and are unlikely to be keen or even able to dip into their holey pockets for these experiences.

We doubt schools’ government funding will be hiked up to make the difference.

So, what do they do?

Round up parents for some dreaded fundraising (an inequitable activity in the best of times and more difficult in straitened circumstances), cut something else or deprive pupils of such experiences?

The organisations involved, Otago Museum, Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Otago Peninsula Trust and Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki, will have had lean times during the Covid-19 pandemic, and schools are already under enough pressure with staff and pupil illness, and truancy, without yet another headache.

It is hard to see a winner here.

On the face of it, it seems short-sighted and penny pinching.

It also raises the question of whether contestable funding for such programmes is the best and fairest way to organise such education, if it means in some instances that access to a variety of experiences is restricted rather than expanded.

We welcome moves to see if the affected programmes can get funding from somewhere else.

We look forward to an announcement from local Labour MPs next month who have assured us they are on the case.



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