White flight: Why middle-class parents are snubbing local schools / Your Weekend
It was the comments from friends that were the most shocking. What were they thinking? Had they considered their children's future? Weren't they being a bit, well, irresponsible?
Russell and Jillian Grainger weren't planning a major lifestyle change. Both devout churchgoers, they had just moved into a new home in Auckland's Mt Wellington.
What were they doing that was so crazy? Sending their kids to the local school. Instead of ferrying their four children across town, the Graingers sent them three blocks down the street to Bailey Rd School. When it came time for high school, eldest son Isaac was followed by his three siblings to the local co-educational school, Edgewater College. The controversial part: the schools were low-decile, an analysis based on the socio-economic makeup of the local community. There were a lot of poor kids, and the Graingers were among a handful of Pakeha children at both schools - sharing their playtime with the majority Pacific Island, Maori and Asian kids.
"We wanted our children to grow up in an environment that was representative of New Zealand, especially Auckland," says Russell Grainger. "There were a lot of comments from people about how terrible the schools were, a lot of 'Oh, you're not going to put your children in there, are you?'. But our kids have done very well academically and they can get along with anyone.
The Graingers' school years are almost over: Angus, 18, and Abbey, 16, are the last at school. They have received an education that is becoming rarer in New Zealand's state schooling system - one where white and brown children go to school together, in their own neighbourhoods.
School choice is nothing new. Since the introduction of the Tomorrow's Schools education reforms in 1988, parents have been able to select their school. But the repercussions of these policies are now becoming clear: the creation of a state-schooling system where rich and poor schools are increasingly divided along ethnic lines, which some have gone so far as to label "educational apartheid".
Research shows if people can afford to choose, they will choose a school in a richer neighbourhood with a higher decile ranking, even if this does not necessarily mean a better school. In cities like Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, this means students bussing or being driven across town to attend a "better" school, and parents going to ever more extreme lengths to get their children into schools when they live outside the zone - Your Weekend found parents seeking to baptise their children for the sole purpose of gaining entry into high-decile Catholic schools.
Ministry of Education figures show schools in rich neighbourhoods now have far more Pakeha students than they used to. Meanwhile, the number of Maori and Pasifika students at these schools has plummeted. In an article set for publication in July's New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, researcher Liz Gordon says roll analysis has shown 10,000 more Pakeha students now attend decile 10 schools than in 1996, and account for 80 per cent of the students.
And as of 2013, only 4 per cent of students attending the average decile 1 school were Pakeha - a drop of two-thirds - while Maori account for 50 per cent of students, and Pasifika students 40 per cent.
In general, richer schools are getting bigger, while rolls at poorer schools are declining, Gordon found. If the trend continues at current rates, schools in the highest decile will be three times the size of those in the lowest decile by 2020.
"The trend is inexorable and ongoing, and that shift is being led by Pakeha people," Gordon says. "There is white flight from low to high decile schools. There is also Maori flight, as there is a growth in the Maori middle class - but more than half of those at lower decile schools are still Maori."