Shifting schools puts kids' education at risk

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 23/06/2013

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Children from "transient" families are changing schools up to six times a year, a worrying trend that experts say is damaging our kids' education.

In a few schools, the turnover rate is so high that by the end of the year more than half the roll will be new pupils.

Advocates say transience is a "hidden" side effect of poverty, and there needs to be a nationwide campaign to teach parents about keeping children at one school for as long as possible.

Earlier this month an 11-year-old boy was at the centre of a tussle between the Education Ministry and Paeroa Central School - which had excluded him for an assault on a teacher and threatening other pupils.

The boy had been at the Paeroa, Waikato, school just four days before he caused such havoc he was excluded.

It was the fifteenth school the boy has attended in the five years he has been at primary school - having been excluded, dropped out or removed from the others.

Education Ministry figures show the 11-year-old is not alone with his patchy record of being passed between schools.

Last year around 4000 children attended three or more schools. Of those, 426 enrolled at four schools, 59 enrolled at five schools and 14 enrolled at six schools.

"The effect that has on those children's education is going to be huge," said Finlayson Park principal Shirley Maihi, from Manurewa.

"Particularly between the ages of five and seven, if they haven't had stable schooling there's going to be huge learning gaps. And it's really hard to catch up."

Maihi, whose school had a 52 per cent turnover, said looking at figures for one year didn't necessarily give the whole story - many of those children would change schools numerous times again the next year, and the year after that.

She said there needed to be a national campaign aimed at parents across the country.

The numbers from the ministry showed while Auckland had the most children shifting around, Northland, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, East Coast and Otago also had high rates of transience.

Christchurch figures showed that almost 200 children attended three or more schools, but those numbers were likely to be partly earthquake-driven.

"It's not an Auckland problem, it's a low socio-economic problem," Maihi said.

"You'll have families who have to go and live with nana in Timaru until they save enough to pay the power bill, or find a new place," she said.

"But it's about telling parents not to move the kids unless they really, really have to."

The Child Poverty Action Group and New Zealand Principals' Federation are planning research into the prevalence of transience and its effect on learning.

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Former federation president Paul Hammond said there was a strong correlation between transience and poor outcomes - particularly when combined with other factors like neglect, abuse and unemployment.

"Most parents understand that moving children around schools is not ideal, but on its own it doesn't always mean there are negative consequences.

"When you add in other factors . . . that's when it becomes an issue," he said.

FACT BOX

Skipping school: How many Kiwi children went to more than two schools in 2012:

Three schools 3482

Four schools 426

Five schools 59

Six schools 14

One child changed schools seven times.

- Sunday Star Times

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