Sir Bob, Gareth Morgan clash over low decile schools

Gareth MorganMedia, Tax and Welfare

This post was originally posted on TVNZ’s website.

I would like to know what you think. Are our kids better off at high decile schools? Does the decile system impact on how well children do later in life?

Two of NZ’s richest businessmen, Sir Bob Jones and Gareth Morgan, have squared off over whether the decile system impacts on how well children do later in life.

Going to the equivalent of a low decile school hasn’t held back Sir Bob and Morgan but while they both have success in common, they couldn’t be more different in their view of poor, or low decile, schools.

Economist and conservationist Morgan told TV ONE’s Close Up the Government “is slowly and surely continuing to starve education”.

But property tycoon Sir Bob says he’s not to blame for people being poor and he takes a different approach to low decile schools.

“What do you want me to do? Do a Gareth Morgan and grovel on the floor and say ‘we all have a duty to them?'”

Both men came from working class families and both went to school in poor neighbourhoods.

But they have radically different ideas on what is best for Kiwi kids.

‘White flight’

Morgan said the small Waikato town of Putaruru where he grew up was a town of labouring people working in the mills, forests, and some on farms.

Morgan went to Putaruru College which is now a decile 3.

The number of Pakeha families in low decile schools has halved over the past decade and Morgan is labelling it “white flight.”

He said the Putaruru dairy farmers now have far higher incomes than they ever had in his day.

“So all of their kids are getting bused to St Peter’s in Cambridge and not going to Putaruru high schools. So that beautiful mix that was in Putaruru, real cross section of society, is now being polarised by white flight. Even the bloomin’ teachers drive across from Tauranga to teach in that school. What the hell is going on?”

Decile ratings are based on five factors – household income, parents’ occupations, parents’ education, household crowding and social welfare. The poorer the area, the lower the decile, so the more funding the school gets.

“It actually tells you nothing about the school. What it tells you is what the average income is,” Morgan said.

Decile ratings are in place to help the Government allocate funding, and some schools have warned that parents are being misled by them.

Sir Bob not a low decile fan

Sir Bob knows what it is like to grow up in a low-income area. He was raised in a state house Lower Hutt in the 1950s.

“My parents were like everybody in the environment out there. They were working class people. My dad was a welder, they all worked in factories, all my peers did,” he said.

Sir Bob went to Naenae College, then on to university.

Asked if he thinks his education held him in good stead, he said, “Course it did. It was fantastic. I loved it.”

But despite his working class background, Sir Bob is not a fan of low decile schools.

“They’re filled with low decile people. In the case of places like South Auckland they come from areas with high crime etcetera, etcetera. Children are very influenced by their peers and if they’re surrounded by people that have perhaps got bad values they’re going to be affected by that.”

But Morgan says low decile schools do more than educate children and mixing with others from different social backgrounds “builds emotional and social intelligence”, factors key to success in life, he says.

“It gives them a rounded appreciation of New Zealand society. Otherwise all you’re doing is you’re putting them in a bit of a cocoon and they go through that cocoon and they can’t relate to the rest of the society they live in.”

‘Better values’

Sir Bob has many children and grandchildren and insists on sending them not just to high decile schools, but to private schools.

“They’re growing up surrounded by people with better values than they are down in South Auckland. It’s not bloody hard and it’s silly to beat around the bush about it.”

Asked if he was implying people with good values wouldn’t send their children to a low decile school, Sir Bob said: “Of course they wouldn’t. They’d be very irresponsible to do it if they could afford to get their children [to a higher decile school],” he said.

Asked if that’s elitist, he said: “Of course I’m an elitist. We want people to excel.”

To the suggestion that not all New Zealanders can afford to send their children to private schools, Sir Bob said, “You’re asking me are they better or not. Yes, they’re better. Don’t blame me for people being poor, blame them in fact in most cases, but don’t blame me.”

Morgan said a family wants to be part of a community where it lives with its neighbours.

He sent his son, self-made millionaire and Trade Me founder Sam to Newtown Primary, decile 3, and Rongotai College, decile 6. Both schools have many Pacific island, Maori and refugee children.

“I think your children should be sent to the school that’s closest to you. The onus is then on the state to make sure that the delivery of services from all the state schools is as good as it can be,” Morgan said.

Asked if that’s idealistic, he said: “I thought we had a public education system. I thought that’s where we’re starting from.” He admitted all New Zealand schools will never be equal.

The two men disagree on low decile schools, but they do agree on one thing – a child’s education depends on their home environment, not on the income of their community.

Sir Bob, Gareth Morgan clash over low decile schools was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.