23 Oct 2014

Principals take Key's side on poor kids

10:43 am on 23 October 2014

Schools in some of Northland's poorest communities agree with Prime Minister John Key that a universal lunch programme is not the best way to help hungry children.

Hone Harawira in the Radio New Zealand Auckland Newsroom.

Hone Harawira Photo: RNZ Kim Baker Wilson

The Feed the Kids Bill, originally promoted by former MP for Te Tai Tokerau Hone Harawira, is being pushed by the Green Party. Under it, kids at all decile one and two schools will be given free meals.

Mr Key said the Government would spend more money on alleviating child poverty - but it would not be supplying free lunches.

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  • Schools were discreetly managing the problem of children coming to school without lunch, and the Government had no intention of relieving parents of their responsibility to provide it, he said.

    Tai Tokerau Principals' Federation president Pat Newman - well-known for his criticism of the Government's education policies - said Mr Key had a point.

    He said most low-income parents managed a packed lunch most of the time for the children at his low decile school.

    "At the moment, we've got 32 packs of sandwiches in the freezer; when that's used up - probably by Friday - we'll make some more. Now what''s that costing a week? Ten bucks?"

    Sandwich

    Photo: PHOTO NZ

    Different needs

    Mr Newman said when a child did arrive without lunch, the school provided sandwiches, free milk - and all the fruit they wanted from the Fruit in Schools scheme.

    "You know I have to agree with Key. I don't believe we shove all the kids down the hall and say 'right, you're all eating lunch'.

    Mr Newman suggested a discretionary fund would be a better option and could operate accountably, like the Kiwisport grant schools received to help out children who could not afford the club fees or gear to play weekend sport.

    "If you did it this way I think it could be a lot cheaper and a lot simpler, because some children need food, some children need shoes."

    Principals at two other low decile schools also agreed a universal meal programme was not what they needed, and supported the need for a discretionary fund.

    Kaitaia Primary principal Brendan Morrissey said the Feed The Kids bill was well-intentioned and came from the heart of the former local MP Mr Harawira.

    But he said it would be impractical because feeding the whole school would take more staff, more time and a commercial kitchen.

    Mr Morrissey said his school fed up to 25 children a day with no fuss, with support from corporates such as Fonterra, Sanitarium and Top Top - plus goods donated by local businesses.

    Hikurangi School principal Bruce Crawford said he could call on a squad of efficient church women to provide lunch at a moment's notice for any child who arrived without lunch.

    But he said not all schools could count on that sort of community support - including more middle-class ones - and he also believed a discretionary fund for all schools to use for the most needy would be a more effective use of funds.

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