New Zealand principals sound alarm as students fail to return to school after Covid closures | New Zealand

New Zealand school principals are sounding the alarm over pupils falling behind, as a surge in absenteeism follows the Covid-19 disruption.

In 2021, schools in Auckland and parts of the North Island were closed for weeks or months as the country went into lockdown. Since then, however, head teachers say a worrying number of pupils have not returned to school or are not attending regularly. Vulnerable students slip through the gaps and disappear, despite schools visiting homes and contacting families and neighbors to find them.

“I’ve already taken 42 children off the roll completely because they’ve been away for more than 20 days – that’s in term one,” said Shirley Maihi, headteacher at Finlayson Park School in Manurewa, south India. Auckland, which has a role of around 960. “Since then we still have something like 22 that we are trying to trace.” She said that in addition to the children who had completely disappeared from the lists, a large number of children only attended intermittently – only two or three days a week.

A ministry survey into the matter, published in March, found a “worrying increase in the proportion of chronically absent pupils” – defined as pupils who attend less than 70% of the school year. Between 2016 and 2022, the proportion of chronically absent students doubled to 9% . Overall, the proportion of students attending school has steadily fallen by more than four percentage points in 2021 to 59.7% – with the decline most pronounced for schools in the poorest neighborhoods and among Maori and Pacific students. “Unfortunately, some children are forced to drop out of school and work to support their families,” the report concludes.

“The difficulty is understanding exactly why they are absent,” said Cherie Taylor-Patel, president of the New Zealand Principals’ Federation. “They could be out due to Covid… they could be out due to illnesses and winter illnesses. And they might be absent because they don’t usually come to school anymore.

When schools moved to online learning during Covid shutdowns, poorer students were at a huge disadvantage, she said. The idea that all students could easily access Zoom, safe or quiet environments, laptops, or adult assistance was “absolutely so far from the reality of what they can expect when they get home,” she said. “It’s incredibly unfair.” For students who then disengaged, she said, schools now face the challenge of bringing them back.

Maihi said many families are facing a tangle of issues: the rising cost of living, inflation and gas prices are all putting additional stress on families, and in some cases school attendance. was falling on the priority list. “Winter clothes are a big deal this year. We’ve never had that before,” she said. rent, trying to pay for food [costs] … They just don’t see that the struggle, in some cases, to get kids to school is worth it for them.

The government survey concluded that “Covid-19 appears to have also worsened existing inequalities in school attendance”, and 40% of pupils who developed poor school attendance had not done so before Covid-19. In the last budget, the government promised $40 million to address school attendance issues.

“You have a group of families who are struggling with issues of generational and situational poverty,” Taylor-Patel said. “If you don’t have a home and you’re just passing through, it’s very difficult to make getting to school every day a priority. If you care about food and money every day, then again, school sometimes gets in the basket too hard.

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