10 Feb 2023

Year off to a good start despite Covid and weather, some principals say

7:57 am on 10 February 2023
Rear View Of Students Walking To High School

Photo: 123RF

Covid, bad weather and the price of petrol are among the challenges schools have encountered in their first few days of the new school year.

Some principals told RNZ attendance had been good so far and they hoped to keep it that way.

The pandemic caused a lot of disruption last year and principals said they were already feeling the effects of Covid or seeing it in their neighbours.

Waimea College principal Scott Haines said at his school the virus had so far hit teachers rather than students.

"There's still Covid in the community obviously and our senior leadership team was hit pretty hard in that first week of college. I think we had about half our senior leadership team away with Covid at one point but it's not noticeably affecting attendance in the student population which is really pleasing," he said.

In Whanganui, the co president of the local principals association Linda Ireton said Covid had already caused teacher and student absences in some schools.

The cost of living, especially the price of petrol, also dented attendance last year and it was likely to do so again this year, she said.

"It's massive. Parents have to make horrible decisions, 'can I go to the doctor', 'can I afford to drive across town', can I afford fruit and veges'. It's not right," she said.

"The cost of living has been a huge impact."

Ireton said getting children to class every day would be a focus for Whanganui schools and she planned to send her whānau regular reminders that the school could help and that missed classes could add up to a lot of lost learning.

"Putting it in black and white because sometimes parents don't realise what the cumulation of lost days looks like when you're looking at it in a learning lens and sometimes that's enough for parents to realise 'oh my gosh, I don't want my kids to miss that much learning," she said.

In Auckland, flooding delayed the start of the school year for many.

Weymouth Primary School principal Saane Faaofo-Oldehaver said in the end it actually suited her school to start this week instead of last week.

"I had two teachers with Covid last week so it worked out quite well. They had their week's isolation so it was perfect starting this Tuesday when I had all teachers in front of a class to start the year," Faaofo-Oldehaver said.

She said 75 percent of students had turned up to class but most of the missing children were not sitting at home, they had just moved to other areas and had not yet re-enrolled in another school.

On the Coromandel Peninsula, Te Rerenga School principal Mary Kedzlie said bad weather set back the start of the school year and heavy rain forecast for the start of next week could cause more disruption.

"Staffing would be my problem because most of my teachers have a half an hour drive over areas that could slip to get to school. So more staff getting to school than children," she said.

Despite the weather related complications, Kedzlies said 2023 had started a lot better than last year ended.

"We had 40 children at the beginning of that last week of school because of Covid so we finished poorly, but we've started fantastically," she said.

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