17 Sep 2021

School holiday dates to remain unchanged - Minister Hipkins

1:40 pm on 17 September 2021

School holiday dates in Auckland will not be changed because of the lockdown, Education Minister Chris Hipkins has announced.

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Some parents had raised concerns that students would have missed too much class time because of the level 4 restrictions, and Hipkins had been seeking advice from ministry officials about the effects of bringing the holidays forward.

However, this morning he said he had concluded that the status quo remained the best course of action and the school holidays would remain in line with the rest of the country beginning on 2 October.

"Ultimately when I considered all of the different factors here, the most logical decision was to keep things as they are," he said.

"Keeping the holidays as they are will avoid disrupting the plans already in place for students, families and educators, including curriculum and activity planning and families planning their holidays, and will reduce anxiety.

"It also means we don't have to extend the length of term four, when fatigue among students is at its highest at the end of a school year."

A change would also legally have meant schools could opt in or out of the new holiday dates, he said, which could lead to confusion.

"I think everybody has been looking for certainty and I wanted to be able to give people certainty there. There is some difficulty with shifting school holidays from a legal standpoint ... and that could create even more disruption.

"I also acknowledge ... that the teaching community have been continuing to work right the way through the lockdown period and supporting learning from home and they will need some time to prepare for learning back in the classroom again."

He said it would also mean higher vaccination levels when students returned to the classroom.

"Yes, that was a factor. It wasn't the deciding factor by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly is one of the advantages of having the school holidays stay where they are."

He urged employers to have patience with employees working from home who may be juggling more responsibilities because of having to care for their children.

"Working from home when you've got children, particularly if they're younger children, is a really really challenging time and to some extent your not working form home so much as you're at home trying to work, and I do ask all employers up and down the country to keep that in mind.

"I acknowledge that it's difficult, unfortunately shifting the school holidays isn't, ultimately, the answer for that."

Principals had previously warned bringing the dates forward could see stressed out teachers and students "hitting the wall", and few in the sector would have supported it.

In a statement, National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the government's move underscored the need for better guidelines to ensure children were engaged in education.

He said learning from home was a "lottery" because of the wide variation in approaches taken by different schools, and the government had not even provided a baseline recommendation for how many hours students should engage in learning from home as had been done in the United Kingdom and Canada.

"Some schools are running the normal timetable of classes on line; others are merely checking in with students, from time to time. One principal candidly admitted online learning was a joke in her community," he said.

"National is calling on the government to put in place some baseline assurances in case of future lockdowns ... our freedom and return to a normal way of life depends on rapid vaccination and preparing our hospitals for opening up. Given the government's slowness on those things it needs to be better prepared to deliver education in lockdowns."

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