Labour plans free food for some schools

06:09, Sep 09 2012
David Shearer
DAVID SHEARER: Labour Leader David Shearer to unveil party's plan on how to give children the best start in life.

Labour would roll out free food to 650 of the lowest decile primary and intermediate schools in the country.

Labour leader David Shearer this afternoon delivered a major speech on education policy to supporters at St Leonards Road School in West Auckland.

Shearer said Labour would spend in excess of $10m per year working with existing community and voluntary organisations to roll out food in all decile one to three primary and intermediate schools.

''If kids turn up to school not having eaten breakfast, without shoes, or sick because their house is cold and damp, it's obvious they won't get the best start,'' Shearer said.

''I hear people argue that this is the responsibility of parents. We can debate that endlessly but it won't change this reality: tomorrow morning kids will still turn up to school hungry. And a hungry kid is a distracted kid who can disrupt an entire classroom.''

Shearer also said he wanted to introduce ''clear and easy to understand school report cards so that parents know whether their child's school is up to scratch''.

The Education Review Office (ERO) should be ''beefed up'' to look into the health of schools and report on them in clear easily understandable language.

''I want to see a school report card. And, if the school is falling short in any area, I want to know what is being done to remedy that,'' Shearer said.

''I want to see ERO – staffed with senior teachers and former principals – able to get alongside schools under-performing and lift them back to health.''

The National-led Government has made plain language reporting to parents one of its key promises in the education sector. However, its National Standards in literacy and numeracy for primary and intermediate pupils have been controversial. Some principals and education experts have argued they are unreliable and, because they aren't moderated across the country, cannot be used to compare schools.

Shearer today said he would not support moderating the National Standards.

''I don't need to know whether my school is better than the one across town on the basis of a bunch of shonky figures that even John Key says are 'ropey','' he said.

''I don't want to see is millions being spent on a complex moderation system and teachers incentivised to rort their test scores to make their class or school look better for a league table.''

He also confirmed Labour would extend the ''Reading Recovery'' programme to a further 5000 children a year and develop a parallel 'maths recovery' programme for struggling children with numeracy to get one-on-one help by age 7 or 8.

And he said career planning for students should begin ''at the very start of secondary school''.

''We need to take some bold steps. ... We do need to be open to doing things differently.''

Speaking in Vladivostok, Russia, this morning Prime Minister John Key said the ''vast bulk'' of lower decile schools had free fruit provided and there was ''often a breakfast programme''.

''Not every school wants every child to be provided a lunch,'' Key said.

''There are many families that can provide those lunches. But what we need to have, I think, is a mechanism to make sure that if a child is hungry, there is food provided. In my experience, most of those decile one to three schools have that and are dealing with the issue. But obviously, you'll see with a number of schools on the waiting list for the KidsCan [food in schools programme] that more needs to be done.''

Key said Labour should support National Standards if it wanted to boost Reading Recovery because the standards assessed where those most in need of help were.

''My basic view of education has been that unless you measure, monitor and report on something, you're unlikely to get good outcomes,'' Key said.