14 Oct 2020

Ministry allocates $14.9m to help students struggling during pandemic

9:50 am on 14 October 2020

The Education Ministry has so far allocated $14.9 million from a $50 million fund to help children struggling to return to school or early learning because of the pandemic.

Back to school.

Photo: 123RF

The money is going to 984 schools and 209 early education services for applications covering 158,745 children, at an average value of about $93 per learner.

The ministry said it had approved 1479 applications for funding, declined 679 and had a further 1583 under consideration.

Its figures showed nearly half the approved applications were for help with children's mental wellbeing, a fifth for attendance, and a third for helping children re-engage with learning.

However, in Auckland the spread was different, with the number of applications divided evenly among the three categories, but with nearly half of the money allocated in the city going to projects associated with attendance.

Schools could apply to the fund for assistance with attendance such as hiring people to go to truant children's homes, or paying teacher aides to work with the children in their homes until they were ready to return to school.

The ministry said funding for wellbeing could cover situations such as children with anxiety, who were unsettled, or showing increasingly extreme behaviours. Potential support could include counselling, or an adult encouraging positive play in the playground.

Secondary Principals' Association president Deidre Shea said schools were putting the money to good use.

"Schools are for example hiring extra folk to put time into working with the young people as a youth worker, for extra counselling time, for extra psychology time, that kind of thing," she said.

Shea said there was a backlog of applications in Auckland, where ministry figures showed only 20 percent of the region's $12m share of the fund had been allocated.

However, she said the ministry had assured principals it process the applications faster.

Ministry figures showed daily attendance in the last week of term three averaged 88.5 percent - almost exactly the 88.6 percent average attendance rate recorded by the ministry's annual survey of attendance in term two last year.

However, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said schools had an attendance problem prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, and the pandemic had made it worse.

"Some of those kids who were irregular attenders before Covid-19 have been even more irregular in their attendance post-Covid-19," he said.

"We are seeing fewer students leaving the school system, but not leaving and attending regularly are different things and so some of those students whilst still enrolled aren't showing up as regularly as they need to be."

Principals' Federation president Perry Rush said a significant group of young people was struggling to attend classes regularly.

He said principals were grateful for the fund, but some were not happy their applications had been turned down.

"Some schools have applications that have been rejected while other schools have had very similar applications approved, so that's a concern. We notice significant delays so there is in many instances six to eight weeks, and we have some schools, a significant number of schools, still waiting to hear the outcome of their application."

Rush said some schools had been told the fund had been over-subscribed, and the fund might be too focused on applications for help with student attendance rather than other problems related to the pandemic.

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