Schools shake-up upsetting children

CHARLEY MANN
Last updated 05:00 19/11/2012

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Children affected by the Government's Canterbury schools shake-up are more likely to answer back in class, become unsettled and allow small issues to cause violence, echoing behaviour seen after the February 2011 earthquake, a principal says.

The Education Ministry announced proposals in September to close 13 Christchurch schools and put 26 through some form of merger.

Since the announcement, principals of affected schools say pupils are acting the way they did after the quake.

Branston Intermediate teachers have taken on extra lunchtime supervision duty because of how pupils react physically to the stress of the school's proposed closure.

Principal Jennifer O'Leary said pupils' behaviour was now worse than it had been after 2010 and 2011 quakes. She may hire a support worker to help them cope.

The Hornby school escaped major quake damage but is marked for merger under the Education Ministry's school network overhaul.

O'Leary said the pupils were unsettled. "Teachers find the children are niggling at each other more than normal."

Small issues in the playground quickly escalated to violence, and O'Leary said it seemed pupils were losing their "bond" with the school.

Registered psychologist Guy Eaden, of PsychSolutions, said the ministry had seriously underestimated the impact of its plan. "They are making decisions without registering the social fabric of the community . . . "

"There is a lot of uncertainty for children."

Canterbury University College of Education deputy pro-vice-chancellor Lindsey Conner said it was "highly likely" pupils were reacting to the stress and anxiety of adults around them.

"Long-term uncertainty and tiredness plays on people's ability to be rational," Conner said.

"We are seeing some psychological fallout from multiple stresses on children, parents, families and communities due to a series of changes in people's lives.

"Children are quick to pick up on uncertainty and stress and tend to reflect this in unpredictable ways."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said last month the ministry had carefully considered the impact of the shake-up on the community. "The prime minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, reported last year on the incidence and evidence of stress and trauma across the Greater Christchurch communities - we've looked at the effects of natural disasters around the world," she said.

"We know that this is incredibly difficult and ongoing and we are working with both that knowledge and that communities want certainty."

Labour leader David Shearer said the shake-up was "completely contrary" to internationally accepted practices for disaster recovery.

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"We underestimate the importance of friends and routine to children. That is why it is wrong to test this experiment on Christchurch at this time. Children are going to be the losers in this."

WHAT TO BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR

Anxiety is usually experienced in physical feelings, thoughts and behaviour patterns.

Physical sensations of anxiety are a result of the body becoming more aroused. This is often called the fight-or-flight response and refers to the body doing a number of things to prepare for quick action or escape from danger.

Changes can include increased heart rate, heavy or rapid breathing, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches.

Anxious children might worry about threat or danger or that something bad is going to happen. Source: KidsHealth

- The Press

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