What Decile Tells Us

There is a straightforward story not really being reported since the release of the new 2015 decile information.  This is it.

Locate the wealthiest and poorest areas in a section of New Zealand.  Here is Auckland.

Source: NZ Herald/2013 Census
Source: NZ Herald/2013 Census

The darkest areas here are Devonport-Takapuna, Waitemata and Orakei.  The palest areas are Mangere and Otara.

Next go and look at the decile changes for those areas.  Here is a part of the ratings for Mangere:


The full list paints a pretty clear picture.  Two schools will go up, and ten schools will go down in Mangere.  The new decile ratings will create eight more decile one schools.  In the poorest area in Auckland.  Remembering that decile tells you nothing about the quality of a school, and a lot about the economic well-being of each school’s zone.

The story is the same in Otara.  One school will go up, and five schools will go down across 37 schools.  The two poorest communities in Auckland became poorer.  In the wealthy areas not so much.  Waitemata saw five schools slip, and four schools rise.  Orakei saw three schools slip by one point each, and six schools rise by a total of ten points overall.

When you push out into what we might call the lower middle class the picture is also interesting.  Manurewa and Henderson-Massey have taken some hits.  Manurewa has ten school zones that have lost economic ground and only one that has risen.  Those losses will create seven new schools rated as decile one.  Henderson-Massey has 20 decreased deciles.  20.  Five schools rose by a point.  If we take those four areas in Auckland, the poorest areas in Auckland, there were 45 schools that dropped deciles, and 11 increases.

This picture fits with the latest information from Statistics New Zealand about income based on the 2013 census.  This found that the national median personal income was $28,500, and for those identifying as European it was $30,900.  For Maori it was $22,500, and for Pasifika it was $19,700.  The gap between European and those two groups has increased since the 2006 census.  Maori incomes fell from 85.7% to 78.9% of the national median income.  Pasifika incomes fell  from 84% to 69.1% of the national median income.

The Herald, which is a newspaper for white people, ran an article about how the housing market was playing havoc with the deciles.  Housing may be an issue but – putting the views of the Herald aside for a moment – I would like to propose falling incomes as a solid reason for falling deciles in poor communities.


Look at that long, thick line of blue dots that drifts from the top left of this map and into the bottom right.  All of those blue schools will be getting more funding because the families of their community are not doing very well.  It looks kind of similar to that other map we looked at near the top of this post that showed income.  Almost as if there is a nasty correlation.  The poor got poorer over the last seven years.


It is amazing how willing most political parties are to take their eyes of the problem of inequality.  Looking at the decile rankings this way reminds me of the experience of watching the election debates.  Endless claims, counter-claims and promises about capital gains tax, tax, and housing and very little else.  Both Stuff and the Herald have encouraged their on-line readers to look at the decile data from a self-serving perspective – “how did your school do?” – but looking at it that way disguises trends in whole communities, trends which suggest things aren’t that flash for a lot of people; usually people who were from poorer groups to begin with.

Because it is about schools, the release of the new decile ratings seems to be about education, but at this stage – before the funding cuts and boosts take effect – it is really about economics.  I wonder if any political party will ask Bill English why the economy has been doing so badly for the poor given the release of the latest decile rating review?  Not that there would be any point in expecting a sensible answer to that question.  Presumably he would tell us about something Labour did seven years ago, or that things have actually improved, or that John Key is New Zealand’s most honest Prime Minister.

In the meantime teachers in some places of deprivation face classrooms of kids with greater needs and greater stress at home.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō