School health centre hubs 'will help fight poverty'

Last updated 05:00 02/10/2013

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Free healthcare for pupils and their families in low-decile secondary schools is being praised by a teachers' union as the answer to keeping communities above the poverty line.

The health centre "hubs", in communities such as Naenae, in Lower Hutt, include doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, dentists and social workers as an extension of the schoolyard.

At a Post Primary Teachers' Association national conference in Wellington today, teachers will debate the merits of a paper, Equipping schools to fight poverty: a community hub approach, and look at schools where the approach is working.

Naenae College has been extending its hub over the past decade and provides access to services for all pupils and their families.

"Our primary concern is to have healthy students regularly attending school and willing to learn," principal John Russell said.

"In addition to health services, we run two adult ESOL [English for speakers of other languages] classes for parents of students and members of the community."

The PPTA paper, to be presented by the national executive, says the message that teachers keep hearing from the Government and Education Minister Hekia Parata is that "talking about students' backgrounds and poverty is simply making excuses".

"Minister Parata is saying as much when she talks about ‘not liking deciles' and tells schools to concentrate on teaching . . . this paper proposes a way around this unresolvable argument."

The PPTA is calling for the Ministry of Education to fund more such school-based health, social and community services.

Naenae College guidance counsellor Helen Bowbyes said the less time pupils spent off-site getting help, "the more time they're at school and able to learn".

There were 34 nationalities represented at the college, and the hub was a "safe and welcoming" place, she said.

It had a nurse, doctor and physio available throughout the week, a dental service that did regular checkups, kitchen facilities to provide daily breakfast, drug and alcohol counselling and a youth mentor.

Police had an active role and attended a weekly meeting to discuss "at-risk students", she said.

Ministry head of regional operations Katrina Casey said it would be looking closely at the PPTA report to see what could be added to the work already under way in the area.

"We support any initiatives that will ensure families and children receive comprehensive support . . . We are doing a lot of work with other agencies in the areas of vulnerable children and youth, such as around the social sector trials, vulnerable children's teams and the children's action plan."

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