Greens' school plan 'nothing new'

19:47, Jan 26 2014

The Government is dismissing the Greens' education policy as ''nothing new'', saying most of it is already being done.

The Greens want to see schools in lower income areas turned into hubs which would meet all the health, social and welfare needs of poor families.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei announced the policy in her state of the nation speech in Wellington at the weekend, saying educational achievement was worsening with increasing inequality in New Zealand and the best way for people to escape the poverty trap was through education.

"Education remains the most effective route out of poverty. But school only works for children if they are in a position to be able to learn," the party's policy statement reads.

"Many kids come with a complicated mix of social, health and family issues, often related to low income, that need to be addressed before they can get the most out of school."

The Greens want to cluster a range of social services in schools to be able to meet the social, education and health needs of children and their families on one site.

Under the proposal, children in schools with decile ratings of 1 to 4 would be fed by the state through a national lunch fund and be able to get medical attention from dedicated school nurses. There would also be support services provided to their families to help them find work, further their own education and get more involved in their kids learning.

The party would employ a coordinator to run the hubs rather than placing the burden on teachers, offer free after school and holiday care and build up to 20 early childhood centres onsite at some low decile schools.

However Prime Minister John Key said the Greens' policy was unoriginal and did little to tackle the issue of poverty.

"In terms of the Greens, we're doing most of that stuff. If you look at Breakfast in Schools, it's a universal programme now," he said on Breakfast.

"In fact it's interesting when you go and look at it... in the really low decile schools - one and two - when they start the programme, they offer it to everyone because they don't want to stigmatise the kids.

"About 50 per cent of the school will turn up on day one - within about a month, you're down to 15 per cent and often less."

The Greens' policy would cost about $100 million a year.

There were examples of hubs in schools in New Zealand which were raising achievement levels and drawing communities together.
The Greens' announcement came after the Government revealed a major education policy last week which would see an extra $359m spent on specialist teachers to improve education standards in poorly performing schools.

The policy would see top teachers and administrators sharing their expertise in under-performing schools to improve the results of students in those schools.

Turei said the National policy did not address the underlying issues driving poor achievement among children from lower income families.

"The best teachers in the world, no matter what they're paid, can't teach a sick or hungry kid, we have to deal with those issues first."

Turei also said they did not yet know how the Fonterra and Sanitarium-sponsored Kick-Start breakfast programme in schools, which the Government last year allocated $9.5m in funding over five years, would fit with its own lunch in schools policy.

"I'm yet to see how they would fit into the scheme... they do a good job but corporate welfare, or corporate largesse if you like, is not the solution to serious poverty and inequity - it is the responsibility of the state."

The programme could be expanded to more schools but would concentrate on areas of highest need first, she said.

However Key said the policy did nothing to break the cycle of poverty.

"If you look at the cycle of poverty - why are people generally poor? Generally they're locked out of the workplace.

"There is obviously what they call the working poor, but more often than not they're on welfare dependency and if you want to break that cycle that's got to come from a world-class education system."

Labour has thrown its support behind the Greens' proposal.

Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins said many schools already provided extra services but did not receive enough support, something Labour also wanted to address.

"The lives that children live outside the school gate have a big impact on their readiness to learn and their achievement in school. Unlike John Key and the National Party, we're not willing to turn a blind eye to that."

Hipkins said there would be negotiations with the Greens about priority areas and timing but the announcements "provide a clear marker of the types of initiatives we can work closely together on".

The president of teachers' union the New Zealand Educational Institute, Judith Nowotarski, said the proposal to develop the hubs "goes right to the heart of tackling the biggest problem we face in our education system - poverty and inequity".

"International evidence clearly shows that poverty and inequality are by far the biggest obstacles that children face in education.

"This proposal directly targets these real issues and, if adopted, would make a big difference to the education outcome of thousands of children in this country."