Education will be major battleground
Organisations working with the poor and opposition parties say Prime Minister John Key is in ''la la land'' if he thinks fruit is enough to get a hungry child through a school day.
Labour yesterday unveiled a $10 million policy to provide free food to 650 of the lowest decile primary and intermediate schools in the country.
Labour leader David Shearer rolled out a series of new proposals for the school system that also included one-on-one reading and maths tuition for an extra 5000 children struggling to keep up.
He has also tackled the national standards policy and ruled out performance pay for teachers.
Key immediately rejected the idea, saying free fruit was already provided in the ''vast bulk'' of low-decile schools and there was often a breakfast programme.
''Not every school wants every child to be provided a lunch,'' he told reporters in Russia before leaving for Japan. ''There are many families that can provide those lunches.''
Key conceded more needed to be done because there was a waiting list for the food in schools programme, Kidscan.
Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans said there were hungry children throughout New Zealand, particularly in South Auckland and parts of Christchurch.
His organisation ran a breakfast club at the Southern Cross Campus school in Mangere East. ''We estimated we would get about 30 kids a week turning up, we had 80 on one day.''
Teachers also reported children were having their lunches stolen by other children, he said. ''Not because they're naughty but because they're hungry.''
Fruit was better than nothing but wouldn't sustain a child through the school day, Evans said.
Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sarah Thompson said food in schools could help keep children in school.
''If you're hungry you're probably going to go to where the food is.''
It is estimated there are 270,000 New Zealand children living in poverty.
Child Poverty Action Group said a national programme was needed because charities couldn't meet all the need.
Spokeswoman Susan St John said it would be a cost effective way to begin to address child poverty.
''It is what happens in Scandinavian countries and Britain. It is a sensible way forward.''
The Greens said Key was against every ''good idea'' to end child poverty.
Co-leader Metiria Turei said Kidscan reported one in 11 children in the four lowest deciles were demonstrably hungry at school and a Health Ministry survey found 20 per cent of households with school-age children didn't have enough food for a healthy lifestyle.
"National is in la la land when it comes to poverty. Their policies are increasing hardship. National's track record on child poverty is a disgrace.''
Child poverty cost taxpayers between $6 and $8 billion a year, she said.
FIVE BIG IDEAS
Extend "Reading Recovery" to an extra 5000 children in primary schools.
Introduce a new "Maths Recovery" programme for children aged 7 or 8 who are falling behind in numeracy.
Free food to children in all 650 decile 1 to 3 primary and intermediate schools.
A new "school report" with plain-English information about schools and data on performance in every subject area.
Careers advice in early secondary school.
NATIONAL STANDARDS OPTIONAL
Talking after his speech yesterday Mr Shearer said national standards in literacy and numeracy would be optional under Labour.
School boards that decided to stay with the national standards would report them in a "school report card" and those that opted out would have to report on the results of the other types of assessment they chose.
Parents did not need to compare schools that were kilometres apart, so millions of dollars should not be spent on a "complex moderation system" for the national standards, he said.
"Parents don't go to five different schools, they go to one school and they want to see what their school is doing well there."
The Government will, for the first time, release the national standards results in literacy and numeracy for every primary and intermediate school at the end of this month.
Some education leaders believe the results are so unreliable that they could lead to parents making unfair comparisons.
Prime Minister John Key has admitted the data was "ropey" but said it would improve over time.
Mr Shearer said he personally found the reporting at one of his own children's school better before the national standards had been implemented.
"We're not going to unpick it but certainly, I don't think national standards is the silver bullet that this Government has been talking about."
Parents would decide whether national standards remained at a school, not teachers, he said. "Ultimately, it's the school board that will make the decision."
He also scotched suggestions Labour may move toward performance pay for teachers.
"I'm against performance pay. Our school system works really well because it's co-operative. Teachers share resources, they share good practice, and they share ideas.
"If you put in a competitive model, teachers end up holding that to themselves."
Teacher union the New Zealand Educational Institute welcomed Mr Shearer's speech, saying it provided "commonsense solutions" to the problems teachers dealt with every day.
But Education Minister Hekia Parata said she could not see how a school report card would work without the national standards.
"It would be very hard to see how you could produce any kind of report without quality data and that's what our plan embarks on."
- The Dominion Post
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