29 Apr 2020

Auckland schools to see high number of students return in level 3

8:36 am on 29 April 2020

The Education Ministry has been told 42,853 children will be returning to partially reopened schools and early learning services today.

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Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

Sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said the figure equated to 4 percent of the national school roll and 7 percent of the national early learning services roll.

"We are seeing the highest expected attendance rates reported for early learning in Auckland and Taranaki / Whanganui / Manawatū (9 percent) and the lowest in Tai Tokerau (2 percent)," she said.

"In schooling, we are seeing the highest expected attendance rates again in Auckland (5 percent) and in Nelson / Marlborough / West Coast (6 percent) and the lowest in Bay of Plenty / Waiariki (2 percent).

Principals Federation president Perry Rush said 650 schools responded to an informal survey about expected attendance and 16 percent had no students returning at all and would not reopen.

On average there was an expected return rate of 6 percent.

"Low was expected, but I think this degree of low certainly came as a surprise," Rush said.

It showed parents had taken to heart the message that those who can keep children at home should do so, but there was also some residual concern about health and safety.

Rush was confident schools had processes in place.

"Over the past week and particularly yesterday, on teacher-only day, teachers have been meeting and going through the fine detail with regards to their health and safety plans," he said.

"Principals and teachers wouldn't be heading back if there weren't established processes and routines at this time."

Under alert level 3 children up to year 10 whose parents can't work from home are allowed to return to class, as are those who can't study from home.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he thought the relatively low number of children returning to school was a combination of parents wanting to abide by lockdown rules and fear over spreading the virus.

"I think people do need to exercise some common sense ... but actually what we've seen so far is New Zealanders are being very very cautious and I think that's a very positive sign," he told RNZ's Morning Report.

He said it was probably also to do with the number of New Zealanders still able to work from home, and possibly people expanding their bubbles to allow children to stay home.

"We're looking at about 400,000 New Zealanders going back to work but we've still got about a million New Zealanders working from home or working remotely."

"One of the specific examples we used was the ability for families to extend their bubble arrangements to bring in additional care arrangements for their kids ... that's a good thing.

He said while the ministry did not yet have an integrated system for assessing how the home-based learning was going, he felt it was effective.

"Students, young people will be experiencing a slightly different working environment when they're learning from home, they'll be learning slightly different things.

"Schools are keeping regularly in touch, many of those teachers are continuing to operate their classes using Zoom or they're doing video conferencing or they're keeping in touch via the phone and so on.

"My understanding is those lessons are being very well attended, teachers are saying 'I get on and I do a Zoom lesson and all of my class are there ... the evidence we've heard anecdotally is it's working quite well."

He said students had missed out on a significant portion of their in-school learning after the Christchurch earthquakes too, but did not appear to have suffered academically.

"Actually their results at the end of the year were slightly better than they'd been the year before, so at this point it's still manageable but we'll be keeping a close eye on things."

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