• Nick Smith

Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and Education Minister Nick Smith today released the Education Review Office's positive report on bulk funded schools at Avondale College in Helen Clark's Mt Albert electorate.

"Bulk funding is a defining education issue. It simply comes down to whether you trust principals and parents or whether you want to keep the power with Wellington bureaucrats and teacher unions.

"Labour doesn't trust principals and parents, National does.

"The ERO report builds on similar work from the Ministry of Education and University of Otago and shows schools are making effective use of the flexibility from bulk funding to benefit students," Mrs Shipley said.

The report shows that a broad range of schools from low and high socio-economic status have taken up the option, but there is a strong geographic bias through the country with more schools in the north taking up bulk funding. The report shows larger schools are more likely to take up bulk funding and this is not surprising, given that they are more likely to benefit from the increased flexibility.

"Ironically, one of the highest uptakes of bulk funding is in Helen Clark's Mt Albert electorate where 70% of pupils attend a bulk funded school," Mrs Shipley said.

"A third of New Zealand schools teaching 40% of our pupils have chosen to be bulk funded. The research comprehensively shows it is working. Why anybody would want to disrupt the education of 290,000 pupils for the sake of ideology is beyond belief," Dr Smith said.

Comparing the performance of the schools, the ERO report concludes that:

* A lesser proportion of bulk funded schools had unsatisfactory reviews requiring follow-up (21% of bulk funded schools, 32% of centrally resourced schools)

* Of schools requiring follow-up reviews, those with bulk funding showed a greater capacity to improve their performance.

* Bulk funding alone does not deliver quality education, but does mean effective governance, professional leadership and high quality teaching to improve student achievement.

* A small number of schools had poor financial management prior to taking up the fully funded option and this remained poor after taking up bulk funding .

"Bulk funding is not the be all and end all of education. It sits alongside strategies for improving literacy, numeracy and information technology. It is also complemented by the review of school governance structures, national assessment and the new system of senior school qualifications," Dr Smith said.

"This is a very useful report. It buries the myths perpetuated by opponents of bulk funding. It also reinforces the wisdom of not forcing all schools into bulk funding. It has also identified the problem of a small number of schools entering bulk funding when they are already struggling with managing their finances. In response to this, we will be introducing systems to better check a school's financial management prior to them entering bulk funding," Dr Smith said.