3 Sep 2020

Auckland school rolls low despite govt urging return to class

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 3 September 2020

School rolls in Auckland continue to languish, despite pleas from the Education Minister to get children back into classrooms.

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Some principals are still reporting turnouts of 50 percent or less, and fear it is the students who can least afford it who are missing out.

One Auckland mum was set to send her three kids back to their South Auckland school on Monday - but more Covid cases changed her mind.

"I have made the decision to keep them home for this week, just out of safety to my children and until numbers reduce slightly," she told Checkpoint

"They were tested on Monday for coronavirus and all our tests have come back negative ... and at the moment being a parent, just wanting to keep my kids safe."

She was not alone in her fears - she polled some of her friends on Facebook and found many were in the same boat, with some not planning to send kids back until next year.

"There was a lot of parents that said to me that they are not sending their children back to school until we at least move down to alert level 1, or until next year which I think until next year may be a bit over the top.

"But then we don't know - we could end up in lockdown again in a couple of months - we just don't know what's going to happen with this because everything's so unpredictable."

Thousands of students across the super city have not gone back since the second lockdown - but it was South Auckland which appeared to be hardest hit.

At Dawson Primary in Ōtara, just 38 percent of children have returned.

Sutton Park school was sitting around 40 percent and the nearby Māngere East school had about half of its students back.

At Mount Roskill Primary 53 percent of kids were in class. Principal Mike O'Reilly said there were plenty of nervous parents in the community.

"I think parents were worried about the Mt Roskill church cluster and some of our parents do attend that church, so I know there was some concern around that."

O'Reilly said people were generally being cautious about Covid-19 and still worried and uncertain.

"I don't know if they feel as informed as they might be, many of our families don't speak English that well, so I sometimes wonder what sort of messages they're hearing and whether they're getting all the information."

Further north, school rolls are much healthier. Across the bridge at Northcote Primary just 10 percent of children were away today.

O'Reilly said he feared  inequities in classrooms were being exacerbated by Covid-19.

"We're getting about 65 percent engagement in the distance learning that goes on that we've been providing. Yeah, we do have some concerns around educational outcomes for some of our families and children.

"Those students who were missing out before Covid, you know it's been exponential in terms of the impact Covid's had on them and their families."

All schools spoken to by Checkpoint said their attendance had risen throughout the week - and were hopeful rolls would look healthier by Monday.

Education and Health Minister Chris Hipkins said time was of the essence.

"We have this advice, rigourously tested, we get a variety of different public health experts feeding into that process.

"It is safe to have your kids back at school at level 2, schools are aware of the additional things they can do are to keep kids safe and to keep everybody in the school community safe.

"My plea to parents really is do send your kids back to school, they're losing valuable learning time and there really isn't a public health risk that really should be resulting in those kids staying home."

For college students becoming increasingly anxious about NCEA, Chris Hipkins said the Ministry for Education was looking at ways to make things less stressful for them.

He said the dates for NCEA exams and portfolio submissions which are also part of the assessment process had already been pushed out.

"We have put in place a supplementary credits regime for those students who are still doing learning but maybe wouldn't have been able to do the level of assessment that they normally would have been able to do in a year."

The minister would not rule out further learning throughout summer for high school students to help ease what has been an incredibly disrupted year for students.