Schools, and education and parents too, have certainly been featuring in the news of late, so I thought it may be appropriate to have a look at some of the issues hitting the headlines.
The first, of course, is the front page feature in the Herald on Monday of this week relating to parents taking their children out of school for holidays. The Ministry has recently started collecting data on this and the figure of 23,000 students or 3.4% of the school population per term has been identified.
The reasons for this happening are not too hard to work out – cheap flights and accommodation packages out of school holiday time clearly being the driver for much of this. Family circumstances, significant events (the recent Olympics in Rio come to mind), leave from work etc are also all in the mix.
Alan Vester, the chairperson of the Secondary Principals’ Council has stated that there is little school principals can do about this “because clearly families are going to go no matter what the response is from the school.”
Here is my perspective. As teachers and parents we know of the strong, really strong correlation between attendance at school and academic achievement. School attendance = engagement = academic achievement, is a simple formula that rings true for just about every student. We also know that with early notification and a little planning the impacts of absence from school can be mitigated. The joys of “Google Classroom”, BYOD and the cloud mean that our students can be connected to their classwork and their teachers 24/7 anywhere in the world.
This brings me to the announcement from the Minister of Education of ‘Cools’ – Communities of On-Line Learning. As parents you will be familiar with the realities of this right now. Springs students, and parents too, are connected to their school digitally via email, website, parent and student portals, Google Classroom and Intranet. This is the reality for a 21st century education. It would seem that the Minister is intent on offering publically funded alternatives to private providers to grow this space. If 21st century learning means using knowledge to create new knowledge; working collaboratively in teams to increase understanding and the power of knowledge – then, ipso facto schools are powerhouses of knowledge growth. The innovative learning environments created by our new school build we know will enhance a Springs education even
further. Sure, there are small numbers of students who for a variety of reasons are unable to attend school and organisations such as the Correspondence School and Northern Health School offer alternatives here. We can’t see too many benefits in siphoning off scarce school funding to what could be a plethora of private providers with little real accountability to their clients.
This brings me to the other big item that has featured in the news of late, the announcement by the Minister of Education of a new Global Funding proposal. School leaders have reacted that this is another take on bulk funding in disguise and its sole aim is to reduce the amount of money given to schools to staff and operate their organisations. The Minister, and the Ministry state that this is not the case, but a mechanism to distribute funding more equitably. The abolition of the decile system has been one of the key drivers. We know the reality of the inadequacy school funding now. We live it every day. We staff Springs with 10 teachers over our allocation to support the learning programmes on offer here. We know that we are fortunate in being able to attract overseas fee paying students to boost our budget (by a 7 figure sum) to support
this. We know schools need more money to operate in the ways that you, as parents wish, not less. To this end Western Springs College will close from 12.30 pm on Monday September 5th to allow staff to attend a joint PPTA/NZEI paid union meeting (as allowed for in the contracts of the two organisations) on this matter. Notification of this meeting has been emailed out to you (Friday August 19th). It is noted that senior school exams are scheduled for this time. They will continue to run, but we will be unable to run classes for Year 9 and 10 students, who will be dismissed at 12.30 pm (the end of period 3).