7 Feb 2023

Principals get creative to avoid 'cost of learning' impact on attendance

7:28 pm on 7 February 2023
Te Kōmanawa Rowley School's van is being put to good use.

Te Kōmanawa Rowley School's van is being put to good use. Photo: Supplied/Te Kōmanawa Rowley School

School principals across the country are having to get creative to make sure kids are in class as back-to-school costs hit families.

As prices rise on the supermarket shelves and at the petrol pump, the costs of sending tamariki to school has taken a toll on many families.

In Rotorua, Western Heights Primary School principal Brent Griffin said the bus bought for school trips had now an extra purpose.

"We initially bought the school bus to assist with school trips, but it's become a mean to get kids to and from school.

"It's a 22-seater bus and we do free runs in the morning. Sometimes it gets to four runs, and we drive through the areas where the children live. If they are out on the road, we pick them up and we bring them to school."

He said the school was using all its resources to help relieve the pressure on families' pockets and keep children in the classroom.

"And we also have an eight-seater that runs on the outer suburbs, so we pick them up as well to assist the families.

"Every day, the school bus picks up about 140 children."

Griffin said with the high cost of living, the "cost of learning" has had a dramatic impact on attendance.

Kids receiving their back-to-school packs.

Kids receiving their back-to-school packs. Photo: Supplied/Te Kōmanawa Rowley School

"It is about petrol, it is about parents not having enough money for morning tea, or providing clothing for the children, or shoes to wear.

"It's much easier to keep the children at home because financially they can't afford to provide the necessities that the kids need to get them to school."

In Christchurch, Te Kōmanawa Rowley School Principal, Graeme Norman said the school van used for events, now picks up more than a 100 kids a day.

"We liaise with the parents, we just put it out there, they know we will come and pick them up.

"If they are close enough to work, we try to arrange a walking bus, but if it's a bit further, then we would use the van."

Norman said some teachers picked up students on their way to work.

"We try to arrange some petrol money, some extra money to help them out."

But petrol is not the only reason kids are missing out on school.

The charity KidsCan, which supports nearly 900 schools nationwide, says the cost of stationery, uniforms and even shoes are stopping families from bringing their children to class.

Chief executive Julie Chapman said the difference between students who started the year with the tools for learning, and those who didn't, was becoming more evident.

"Kids in poverty see that they are missing out, and that has an impact on their self-esteem and their motivation to learn," she said.

"That's something we must urgently address. These are the children who need education the most, because it's their best chance of getting out of poverty."

Chapman said many schools weren't passing any costs onto overwhelmed parents, with no fees, and free uniforms and stationery packs.

The increase in demand for KidsCan support coincided with a drop in the number of regular givers, who were having to tighten their own budgets.

Chapman said the charity's own costs were increasing, with food prices up as much as 19 percent on the previous year.

"It's a tough start to 2023. More children need our help, but fewer people have spare money to donate. We have 48 schools waiting for support, where thousands of children are struggling without the essentials," she said.

"If you can afford it, please help us reach them as soon as possible."

To donate, visit the Kidscan website: www.kidscan.org.nz/donating-to-kidscan/

  • Auckland weather: All schools, early childhood centres and tertiaries to shut for a week
  • More children and young people seeking help from charities