$88 million investment to keep students in school

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

The Government has announced it's investing an extra $88 million in student engagement initiatives and programmes in an effort to improve student attendance.

File image: School students.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti made the pre-Budget announcement at Porirua College on Sunday afternoon.

“You’ll see that there’s no big single initiative here, it’s a significant amount of money but it’s spread across different initiatives and that’s because we know that this is a complex problem," Hipkins said.

“It isn’t something we’re just going to be able to wave a magic wand and turn around overnight."

The package includes $40 million over four years for schools to access through applications for local student attendance initiatives they pitch.

It comes after the Government previously created a $50 million contestable fund during the Covid-19 pandemic for schools and early learning services.

Hipkins says the fund led to success around the country.

“Putting that extra money into the frontline now will mean that some of those initiatives that might otherwise have had to stop, we might be able to keep some of those going.”

Also included in the investment is an additional $18.9 million for upgrading the Ministry of Education’s Positive Behaviour for Learning programme which provides resources for schools, kura and whānau.

The implementation of 14 national practitioners will be funded at a cost of $11.2 million for schools that use the programme to receive tailored, quality support.

Support programmes for Māori and Pasifika learners at risk of disengaging, Check & Connect: Te Hononga and Te Mana Tikitiki, are being expanded through a further $7.7 million investment.

“Moving a focus from individual behaviour to looking at the drivers of the behaviour and helping schools to understand that and to understand their school population a little bit better as well is a part of what we’re talking about here so they can understand in many respects… the levels of poverty, what their young people are bringing through that gate every single day,” Tinetti said.

She said the funding increase will support evidence-based initiatives.

Rounding out the announcement is funding to address resourcing pressures across the system, with an extra $7.8 million in funding for the Incredible Years programme, $6 million to address cost issues inside the Attendance Service and increase school support and $15.5 million to increase the amount of support Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, formerly the Correspondence School, can offer some of the most disengaged students in the country.

Hipkins said student attendance has been a "real challenge" for many years in New Zealand, and the pandemic has accelerated the issue.

"We have got to do better," he said.

In 2017, 63% of children went to school regularly; that's attending Term 2 for more than 90% of the time.

In 2021, the regular attendance rate was 59.7%.

The pandemic has added challenges to student participation and re-engaging students with school, according to the Education Review Office.

The Government evaluation agency said Covid-19 may have affected attendance rates, especially for Auckland students and those surrounded by more disadvantage.

Kia Aroha College pouwhenua Haley Milne welcomed the funding but was disappointed a new approach wasn’t announced.

“I think we in education would never say no to additional funding, attendance is an issue for everyone," she said.

“I’m concerned about there doesn’t look to be too much new funding, it seems to be extending programmes that already exist and that’s great however I’m interested in what’s new."

The principal said she wants to see an approach that includes what has been learnt from the pandemic experience.

“I’m interested in how we can approach education in a different way and how we can frame what attendance looks like.

“I don’t see the flexibility for schools to choose what they want to do and do what they need to do in order to get their young people back to school.”

Previously, Kia Aroha College changed their learning hours during the pandemic to better suit student engagement.

“Thinking about young peoples’ brains and when they work and when they are most excited about learning and when they’re not.”

Milne said kapa haka and performing arts has cemented a desire in students to be at school.

“If we could attach some funding to attendance on the back of things like that so that young people are engaged and excited about being at school and then we can create those relationships, build those relationships and then hopefully keep them for the rest of the year.”

“I worry that attendance always seems to be linked to behaviour, trouble at school where as I’d really love to see some initiatives around what is working and what does keep young people at school,” she said.

National Party education spokesperson Erica Stanford said the Government should have made this investment, and more, at the start of the pandemic.

“National have been calling over the last two years for more early intervention, more boots on the ground, more accountability, more rigour in the system to make sure that those most vulnerable children have services wrapped around them to keep them engaged in school and that just didn’t happen,” she said.