4 Jul 2014

Principals question spending priorities

7:53 am on 4 July 2014

Northland primary schools say funding is being cut for basic child support services while the government plans to spend big on its 'Investing in Educational Success' strategy.

Northland primary principals want extra money spent on children, not teachers.

Northland primary principals want extra money spent on children, not teachers. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The government plans to spend $350 million on a new strategy called 'Investing in Educational Success' which aims to promote collaboration between schools, and pays more to expert teachers and principals.

But according to some Northland schools, they're being denied the resources to help children at the bottom of the heap.

Whangarei principal Robert Brown has been trying to get expert help for a child who was a serious safety risk with the support of the boy's parents.

Mr Brown asked the Ministry of Education for an urgent psychological assessment on the child, and yet nothing happened.

This week the boy did something so dangerous he was suspended, Mr Brown won't say what it was, but suddenly, he said, the Ministry was very keen to help.

His is a familiar story in the north.

Low decile schools are dealing with children damaged by abuse, neglect and poverty. Some arrive with the cognitive and social skills of a 3-year-old.

Schools apply for funding to help such children catch up, but they say the waiting times for specialist services, such as psychologists, are getting longer.

Principal of Kaikohe East School, Chicky Rudkin, said funding is shrinking. Her teachers are dealing with pupils like a disturbed boy who arrived last week who's constantly jumping off stairs and running out on to the road.

There's no funding, she said, for a teacher aide to keep him safe and or the special needs children, who need nappies changed, and have to be fed.

President of Tai Tokerau Principals Federation Pat Newman said schools were told last month speech therapists will no longer be available to help in the classroom.

And he said the Ministry told him this week it's cutting the budgets to all schools for children with behavioural problems - because there's not enough funding to meet demand.

Mr Newman said the government should not be spending $350 million on a plan to get schools to talk to one another - when it can't meet the most basic needs of the children.

Mr Brown agrees and said he doesn't need a pay-rise - but his students need help .

"For me, as a principal and as a person, I have had my turn, I make enough money, I don't need any more money and I would get more fulfilment, more enjoyment, if there were better resources and where the children are - plain and simple."

A survey of 1000 principals shows 54 percent opposed the Government's Investing in Educational Success policy and a further 27 percent have concerns about it.

However, the deputy secretary of the Education Ministry, Graham Stoop, says only half of the money is going on additional salaries.

He says the rest will be spent on extra teaching resources so that teachers and principals have time to work together, and for a teacher-led innovation fund.