Budget 2021: Schools welcome focus on child poverty, struggling students

• Small increases in funding for early childhood centres, schools
• $761 million to build more schools, classrooms
• $25 a week boost in student allowances from April 2022
• $67m for learning support including wraparound and truancy services and alternative education
• $240m for reform of the Tomorrow’s Schools system
• Training Incentive Allowance fully reinstated for single parents, disabled people
• Tertiary funding: increase for vocational education to close the funding gap with universities

Education wasn’t the target of Budget 2021 – but the Government’s attention to the poorest and most vulnerable students has still won praise from the education sector.

School principals have been begging for more help for their most vulnerable, struggling students, and say anything that improves their home life will have flow-on effects for their education.

Budget 2021 includes $67 million allocated to education for programmes to address truancy, more funding for children who need intensive support with their learning, as well as extra for alternative education.

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Some $21m over four years will go to truancy services – covering an extra 7500 students to “enable [them] to attend school regularly” as well as alleviating cost pressures on alternative education.

That follows new data showing some 60,000 kids – 9 per cent of the school-aged population – are chronically absent from school, meaning they miss at least three learning days a fortnight.

“Without regular attendance at school academic outcomes for these ākonga [learners] are unlikely to be achieved, and they are more likely than others to be involved with other agencies such as the police and Oranga Tamariki,” the Budget document says.

Secondary Principals’ Association president Deidre Shea said schools would always like more funding but the most pressing need was to help families in poverty.

“The bottom line is a child can’t learn if they didn’t get a good night’s sleep, if they don’t feel safe and supported.”

Perry Rush, president of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation, said non-attendance was a major issue. He welcomed the additional $24.3m targeted funding for intensive support to keep those kids engaged and another $17.7m of repurposed funding for learning support that includes alternative education services.

“The number of students showing up at schools traumatised and in desperate need of specialised support, has grown exponentially,” he said. “The support these students need, especially those displaying violent outbursts, is more than a mainstream classroom can offer.”

Bruce Jepsen, president of Te Akatea, the NZ Māori Principals Association, was also pleased by the extra set aside for learning support, including attendance services which heavily affected Māori tamariki.

Over $150m will be invested in Māori education including $20m for Māori boarding schools, $32.3m to address inequitable funding of wānanga and pay in kōhanga reo, and $77m for Māori medium education schools.

But the highlight of the Budget for him was the focus on the wellbeing of Māori whānau, such as the provision of warm, dry homes.

“When our children are well, they thrive and they learn,” he said.

Much of Vote Education funds will be spent on school infrastructure, including a $53m funding injection to help address maintenance and upgrades of school property. There is also $634m more in capital funding, including $428m to build new schools and expand schools on top of the $1.2 billion allocated in 2019, and $150m to ensure that 25 planned school redevelopments can begin construction.

But the money allocated for new builds will only just keep up with population growth, Auckland Primary Principals’ Association president Stephen Lethbridge said.

“It’s nothing to be sneezed at, but the demand is there – that’s a must-spend in order to just keep up with what we’re experiencing at the moment.”

Lethbridge welcomed the $240 million allocated for the reform of the Tomorrow’s Schools education system but wanted more detail on how it would be allocated. Upcoming work signalled in the Budget included the creation of Education Service Agencies to better serve schools and $162m to overhaul the school curriculum.

NZPF’s Perry Rush said the work of the new curriculum centre would be pivotal – but was concerned about the proposal for an “online curriculum hub”.

“What we most need for schools to deliver a world-class quality curriculum, is a team of expert curriculum advisers on the ground,” he said, “not another website resource.”

“We have excellent curriculum subject experts working in our profession now, and they are the people who can make the curriculum refresh work,” he said.

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The education budget’s $1.4 billion operating package also delivers a small 1.2 per cent increase in funding rates for early childhood providers ($110.7m), and a 1.6 per cent increase to the operational grants of schools ($90m).

Tertiary students have also won a $25 increase to their allowances or student loans from April 2022, while the Training Incentive Allowance is to be reinstated for single parents who are studying, at up to $114 per week.

Mum of four: More resources for struggling kids will benefit everyone

There’s not much in the education budget to benefit Maria and Luke Fowler’s family – but Maria says she’s okay with that.

Daughters Ida, 5, and Zara, 7, attend Sylvia Park School in east Auckland. Teachers have plenty of contact time and kids who need help get help – and she wants every child to learn in that kind of environment.

So Maria was happy to hear funding was being allocated for those learners who were struggling and might have behavioural issues.

“If they don’t have the resources and the money, that takes away from everyone and the teacher’s time is spent in behavioural management rather than getting the kids the actual help that they need.”

Her school is well resourced with plenty of teacher aides. “We see the really positive effect of it – if kids are struggling they’ve got teachers there funded to help.”

Help for the most disruptive kids was good for everyone because the others could focus on learning too, she said. Less stress meant lower teacher turnover.

“It would have been nice to have more money going towards getting and keeping high quality teachers, but reducing overcrowding and bringing class sizes down as well as providing resources to help kids who need extra help will improve the quality of education for all,” she said.

“Teachers have a hard task to be expected to educate large classes of kids while managing kids who really need much more personalised intervention.”

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