Principals' survey: Dealing with changes to school funding in 2017

22 November 2016

The operations grant had been frozen for 2017. Schools use this grant to help keep their schools running - like property maintenance, teaching materials, or technology - as well as paying support staff wages. Support staff are the professionals who work with teachers to educate our kids, including teacher aides, librarians, administrative staff, and kaiarahi.

Then-Minister Hekia Parata announced in Budget 2016 that the operations grant would be frozen in order to pay for targeted funding towards children who are deemed to be the most at risk of disadvantage. But the majority of schools will lose out as a result, because what they could receive in targeted funding won't make up for the lack of operations grant funds.

In November of 2016 surveyed principals to find out how the operations grant freeze will affect their schools, and found that many of them are forced to make some concerning cutbacks that will directly impact the kids that need it most.

Read the full report below.

Survey of Principal Members (NZEI Te Riu Roa & PPTA) intentions for 2017: dealing with changes to school funding.

NZEI and PPTA principal members were invited in October and November 2016 to participate in a survey about their school's plan to deal with the impact of the Budget 2016 freeze on operation funding.

307 principals responded to the survey giving a confidence interval of 95 percent.


The operations grant is the core funding provided to schools to pay for school-related costs including property maintenance, teaching and learning materials, technology  and the wages of support staff including teacher aides.

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced in Budget 2016 that the operations grant had been frozen in order to pay for new, targeted funding for children deemed to be at the most risk of educational disadvantage.

The new targeted funding amounts to $1.54 per eligible child per week.

By far the majority of schools - 60 percent- are net losers as a result of the funding freeze, because anything they might receive in targeted funding will be less than what they would have received, if the operations grant had been adjusted in line with the CPI.

An analysis by the New Zealand Herald shows some schools could be out of pocket by more than $20,000 as a result of the freeze.

This is the first year that the operations grant has not increased roughly in line with inflation.

As 2016 nears to a close, NZEI Te Riu Roa felt it was important to know how schools were planning to manage with an effective cut to their funding for 2017.

Executive summary

Results of the survey show schools are planning a range of cutbacks in order to cope with a frozen operations grant next year, and/or considering asking for more money from parents.

Responses show a high level of concern among principals about the impact these changes will have the education of children, the wellbeing of their families and the security of support staff.

Most concerning is that nearly 40 percent of respondents report they are planning to cut back on support staff, including teacher aide hours, to cope with the freeze.

This is a double blow for children with challenging educational needs who are already missing out on funding for educational resources they need.

These children face the prospect of even less one-on-one time with teacher aides next year. They could be forgiven for feeling like low hanging fruit.

Unlike teachers, who are paid centrally, schools pay support staff wages from their operations grant.  Teacher aides, librarians, administrators etc, are bulk funded, leaving these vital education workers at the mercy of fluctuating funding.

About 13 percent of principal respondents said their board was considering either increasing parental donations, or asking parents to pay donations for the first time. However, comments suggest this figure could have been much higher. Many principals said there was no point asking for more money as parents couldn't afford what's asked of them now.

Several principals described the huge pressure of constantly asking their community to fundraise, especially in communities with little fundraising experience.

One described the predicament they were in like this:

"It's just so difficult finding the right words to say to the community, as it may be construed that the Board are just not managing their funds well, or "it's a free education system". I am really struggling with this and how we can get busy working parents to buy in to fundraising support. It takes so much time away from core business of teaching and learning. … Our teachers end up paying for more stuff than they should too, and that's not ok." (Taitokerau area)

Several principals  - 16 percent - reported they were planning to defer maintenance spending to cope next year. This is particularly concerning as funding changes proposed by the Education Minister this week would compel schools to spend the property maintenance appropriation of their operations grant on property, removing their discretion to use it to meet educational expenses. If the Government continues to cut or freeze school funding beyond 2017, the removal of this discretion will put even more pressure on schools to reduce support staff hours when money is tight.

More than ten percent said they were considering not hiring some board funded teachers, including specialist new entrant teachers.


(n=307 respondents)

If your per student operational funding for 2017 is not increasing in real terms which of the following are you considering doing next year? (Please choose as many options as applicable.)

  NZEI PPTA Total % Total Respondents
No changes being considered 64 18 82 27%
Increased parental donations are being considered by my Board 39 1 4 0 13%
Reduce hours for support staff 109 10 119 36%
Reduce the number of support staff roles 72 5 77 25%
Changes to curriculum provision 64 5 66 21%
Deferring property maintenance 46 2 48 16%
Other 69 10 79 26%

Principals' comments

"We already put a great deal of money into employing support staff for our high needs students that come to our school with no funding. My parent community will not accept increased parent donations…they are reluctant fundraisers. I can't see how I will manage reducing my support staff roles as I have a number of students who need 1:1 support and I can't imagine not being able to give these students, their teachers, and their peers, this level of support." (Wellington region)

"Very difficult to provide full curriculum coverage" (Auckland area)

"As a decile 1 community there is no option of raising the monies through parent donations/ fundraising etc therefore we can only reduce our expenditure as much as possible, which then disadvantages our students further." (Auckland area)

"We will never ask our parents for a donation - they are struggling enough as it is. The way we will manage is to cut costs everywhere at the expense of our curriculum budget and support staff. We are all having to pitch in and do things that other staff members (if we could afford them) would be doing." (Wellington region)

"I am looking at asking the parents support group to fund one teacher aide or we cannot keep her next year…" (Canterbury)

"Our school supports an ever-increasing number of special needs studen ts who should receive ORS funding but get turned down and arrive at our school needing full time funding. How can the govt expect the school to pick up that funding and still meet the needs of others?" (West Coast region)

"We normally hire a new entrant teach er for six months, funded by the board, but we will not do that next year." (Auckland)

"I have cut everything back, some to the bare bones now, and still the draft budget shows a sizeable deficit" (Taitokerau)

"The freeze makes it more difficult for schools to meet the Government's aim of 85 % of students at their expected level. We have increasing accountability with less funding." (Waikato)

"We are making do. We cannot ask our community for an increase in donation and only about 25 percent of the community make the donation now." (Manawatu)


The responses of principals to this survey provide valuable insight into the pressures schools and school leaders are under, and the impact that funding freezes may have on children and young people next year.

These responses show when funding is cut, it's almost always children who will miss out.

Comments show how children with the most to gain from a quality, well-funded public education, are the first to lose out when funding is cut.

Principals of schools in low income areas, and those with high numbers of Maori and Pasifika students, report that they are less able to fundraise, or ask parents to make up for funding shortfalls through donations.  Their children suffer a double disadvantage when funding is cut.

Children with challenging educational needs, who are already missing out, will be even less likely to get one on one teacher aide time.

Our simple conclusion is that schools need better funding. And by that we mean more funding.

To her credit, the Education Minister has cancelled plans for bulk funding of teacher salaries. The next step is to provide better funding: increase public funding for schools, and restore funding for ECE, which has been frozen for the past six years.

NZEI members believe New Zealand's young people and children deserve the best education in the world. We also believe New Zealand can afford to provide it.

Fast facts

  • We surveyed 307 principals working in primary, area, intemediate, and secondary schools.
  • Nearly 40 percent of respondents reported that they were planning to cut back on support staff hours
  • An analysis by the New Zealand Herald showed that some schools could be out of pocket by more than $20,000
  • About 13 percent of respondents said their boards considered introducing donations, or increasing them
  • 16 percent reported that they planned to defer maintenance
  • More than ten percent said they would consider not hiring board-funded teachers, including specialist new entrant teachers.

How it compares

See what principals said when we surveyed them about their 2018 budget.