Archive for Education

Catalogue of Change

Covid has seen New Zealand working in ways that are new, testing and perhaps not as temporary as we might like to think. 

Schooling

It is inevitable that the question of whether to shift the holidays to compensate and recognise that the students have missed a lot of term time thanks to Covid will always be a bit controversial. It is one of the times when it seems to me that all the positions taken around this issue have merit. I might have thought that the Boards of Trustees could contribute to this discussion.

In the history of New Zealand education there were considerable times when there were breaks in children being at school, often this was on a regional basis rather than the whole country and lessons were one way or another continued at home. The Correspondence School was prominent in the help given to teachers and schools at that time and many students, now much older, recall with pleasure the arrival and the departure of the canvas satchels in which the lessons were dispatched and collected on a weekly basis during the period when schools were closed. Those who once were young speak of the delight in getting the satchel which the teachers distributed and collected.

But that was then, this is now and things have changed.

Coffee #2 and Impact

I was amused the other day to hear a coffee shop owner in Wellington adamantly stating that it is time public servants “got back to work” so that they could keep coffee shops operating. As much as I realise that getting the business flowing again is important, the thought that people are only working when they “get back to work” ignores the fact that they are “back at work” and it is called working from home.

There have been some quite clear indications that there will be a number – some say 15% – who will not return to the coffee shop but continue to work from home. This was once thought to be difficult to control but it seems to have proved easier than we might have predicted. MBIE was reported last week to have 50% of its workforce doing their job at home. Many of those who are working at home will not “return to work” but remain being at home, perhaps playing role in their young children and older youth education, and drinking their home-made coffee!

Access to Goods and Services

My computer ink arrived the day after I ordered it, brought to me by a courier – who would have thought?

Finally, Tertiary Education responds

Tertiary education has long spoken of distance learning and flexible access to learning. The change to on-line learning is widespread in many of the tertiary education institutions. These are changes that will be difficult to turn back from, just as it will be with schooling as it is at home, and keeping coffee shops working but at a scale and number that is driven by customers rather than custom, and with tertiary education increasingly abandoning requiring students to gather in a certain place at a certain time to learn. Once issues of access and equity to post-secondary education and training are solved there will be great advances in tertiary education. Change in education does not come easily and perhaps not in business and commerce.  But when change happens we should be wise enough to hang on to the best of it.

Covid or Coffee? The Lowdown on Lockdown

Where did this mania for drinking coffee come from! It seems to be to the middle classes and the rich what Kentucky Fried is to the great unwashed. It’s nuts. Well. Quite literally.

What has happened to New Zealand when we experience a lock-down of a week and that culminates in countless people revealing that their biggest, most passionate wish when they come out of lock-down where they have enjoyed many good thing such as food as fine as they can cook, drinks to whet their whistle and the companionship of a bubble which cis as good as those in it, is to have a coffee. They strut outside the coffee shops holding their prized coffee out front as if it is some piece of golden, religious paraphernalia and show smiles that dangerously run the risk of damage to their faces. They Oooohhh, they Aaaahhhh and assure us that they have been on tenterhooks just waiting for release to have their first coffee and slyly admit that they have been waiting for this first coffee, it is to them a kind of Waiting for Godot experience.

The coffee culture has been a somewhat fast development in New Zealand culture, and I blame the invention of the take-away cup. It alone revolutionised the purchase of coffee to take with you whatever you are doing and wherever you are going. It has the power to influence the design of motor vehicles with the creation of those round spaces with have an opening with the ability to keep your precious cargo safe. I read the other day that electric cars will in time be fitted with AMCM capability. These small Auto-Mobile-Coffee-Machines will keep you supplied with the best coffee available long after you run out of power through a small solar panel on the back of the mirror.

I am a veteran of coffee drinking as my parents back in the 1950s served coffee made with chicory. Mr Google tells me that Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is a somewhat woody, perennial herbaceous plant of the daisy family Asteraceae, usually with bright blue flowers, rarely white or pink…. In the 21st century, inulin, an extract from chicory root, has been used in food manufacturing as a sweetener and source of dietary fibre and the essence was used to make coffee.” 

Be warned, coffee beans are said to be very expensive soon and Chicory Essence could well make a comeback. If you have read the description above it is certainly a talented plant with more uses than simply making coffee.

My Mum must have known a thing or two because we didn’t know anyone else who drank it! And this information comes as a surprise as I thought over all those years and until now that Essence of Chicory was made from industrial waste such was the putrid taste which we tolerated as the drinking of “coffee” was considered a treat.

But on reflection I rate this coffee thing and its drinkers ahead of the untold numbers who crave for and descend on the house of Colonel Sunders and others to feast on take-aways which I note are now known as take- outs! There is no doubt that we are becoming known for our culinary practices. 

Whatever happened to Dinner Parties, shared picnics under the trees at the lake, and drinks at five? And by the way, my favourite coffee at the moment is an Americano!

Still the Bogey of Assessment prevails

It was interesting when several vox pop items in the television were news interviews of family groups about the impact on students as the lockdown prevailed. Concerned parents and the students themselves expressed concern at the impact on their progress and ability to complete the course if this lockdown went on and on and on.

They were especially talking about NCEA and it could be that their concerns were able to be softened. I was particularly interested that when they talked about the disruption to NCEA they used the old language of the assessment regime, and I can understand why that happens. I find that the older community members with teenage students don’t quite understand the difference between norm-referenced assessment – the old examinations, the School Certificate Examination, Sixth Form Certificate, and Bursary Examinations – and the Standards-Based assessment of NCEA.

The New Zealand Drivers Test is also standards-based and there are some features that what we know we could understand by thinking about standards -based assessment and the issues raised if the NZ Driver’s License on a norm referencing basis. It would go something like this.

All candidates for a licence test would have to present themselves on a single designated day to sit the test. Imagine the chaotic scenes were that attempted. 

Of course, with the sort of number being tested there could not be practical test. Rather it would be a theory test. No-one would get to drive a car for the test but would have to answer questions about driving. 

In the best of norm-reference exams the results would be massaged to fit a pre-determined pattern. About half would pass and get their license. Half would get their licence – both rather unpalatable issues when you think about it!

The skills of driving would be separated in topics: rules of the road, being an observant driver, parking the car, managing a trailer, speed limits, driving in lanes, and so on. But asking questions about each element of bring a driver would in no way be a guide as to the performance of a driver when they had to consider demonstrating all the skills simultaneously and in situation where there were drivers on the road each of various levels of competence.

Based on the theoretical and the distribution of marks some drivers would be deemed to be Class A, others Class B, still others Class C.  Perhaps the rest would be BO Class (i.e., Bicycle Only

The old examinations system worked exactly as this bizarre and almost unbelievably stupid set of assessment procedure that we have applied to the Driver’s License ex it was applied to real subjects about which the demonstration of competence and knowledge and skills was determined by 1 examination.

But the New Zealand world of assessment has changed. NCEA does not operate like an examination. The key differences are:

  • Students know full well what they need to know and do.
  • Students do not just get one shot at the assessment of that knowledge and skill but can go over learning many times – practice make perfect or rather perfect practice makes perfect.
  • Students can present themselves for assessment when they feel ready since time served does not apply – they can learn at their own speed rather than perform in a class like synchronised swimmers or marching teams.
  • Working with others, even talking through their learning, is the reward for working collaboratively rather than a detention.
  • There are no set numbers for the proportion of students passing – they will get credit for what they have learnt and can demonstrate.

Students wondering about preparing for tests and handing work in can accept that there will be problems when they are freed from lockdowns.  Students will get credit for what they do and what they know. The message is to get on with the work they have been asked to complete. Enjoy the freedoms of learning at your own speed. 

In the 2020 Covid Lock-down the Minister of Education decided to award extra credits for every five credits earned by the student that reflected that additional work and perhaps even the stress of studying in lock-down circumstances. NCEA has the flexibility to reflect learning that cannot be split into smaller pieces but rather reflect the holistic understanding of whole subjects that students develop.

One last thought! How many students have set up Zoom Study Groups

Two Heads are better than one but three might trump all

I have long thought that there was a good case to be made for educators, probably retired educators with proven track records, who could act to mediate and assist parents and schools to resolve issues that arise. It makes for sad reading when the NZ Herald spreads a story across the front page and down a column of Page 2 about an incident when a teacher reprimanded a student for using an iPad when for some unstated reason that was inappropriate. The student responded by swearing at the teacher, the school reacted by expelling the student. The Ombudsman ruled that the school’s response exceeded the rights of the school to take the action they had. 

In former years the action taken might have been considered to be custom and practice throughout the land when expulsions were de rigour reached over 4,000 a year. But that was then and now is not then!

When a student runs afoul of a school it is easy for the situation to grow in assumed substance in what is already an uneven relationship. Because, in many instances both parties are right. The school must judge whether they can run sweetly if swearing at teachers were to pass with a shrug and the answer is probably “no,” they can’t. On the other hand, parents, in my experience as a principal, will cooperate with schools if they believe that their child, of whatever age, has committed an offence and will support school response if they believe it is fair, considered, and reasonable. And especially when there has been good consultation.

That is where sage third party assistance could help to resolve incidents and issues in ways that support the school’s need for an orderly and respectful working climate and the parents / caregivers feel supported by the respect and involvement they have had in reaching a resolution of the incident. But not only an incident which has become inflamed. There are processes that add value to the role of a school as an educator. And both sides should approach these situations mindful of the fact that schools are educational institutions which act in the interests of young people and need to do what it takes to act in the interests of the students – that is what “duty of care” requires.

I have often been asked by parents who are trying to support their children when indiscretions which the parents arguing for the matter to be accepted, ignored and in which the parents are acting to constructively to seek a resolution. That is when good procedure is required – agreement on what happened, an explanation from the student, a discussion between and parents / caregivers with the Board of Trustees, then the development of an action that is explained to the student and their caregivers / parents. And above all, consistently applied. Yes, it is time consuming but done well it will help the school to achieve its enhance its role as educator.

Neutrality has a strong power to succeed where entrenched positions will fail.

Call it a “Mediation and Advisory Service!”

We’ve got the Apples but not the Teachers

The Government’s solution to the apparent teacher shortage is to increase their engagement in Covid-Roulette by opening the borders to 300 teachers from overseas. What has happened to the old system when the Ministry of Education knew, with some certainty, that the likely supply of teachers would be made up of three categories – teachers registered and on-the-job, teachers-in-training, and what I think was intriguingly called the “Pool of In-Active Teachers?”

Perhaps the numbers of students who drop-out or leave primary school but never appear o the roll of a secondary school or join the ranks of the NEETs has complicated the process of making predictions for the supply of teachers a bit of a guessing game. The fact that the MOE has five years to prepare for the number of students entering primary school and 10 years to work out the relative numbers moving on to secondary school. Either solving the strange disparity in population numbers and progression figures or simply shrugging shoulders as to this mystery and factoring it into their calculations should help.

Another issue -It seems that there are teachers experienced in the New Zealand education system who are available to teach but simply cannot get teaching positions and, we are told, even an interview! This seems a bit daft?

Now, some positive moves.

Teachers themselves could be their own worst enemy. Some think it smart to say: “I wouldn’t recommend to a student that they consider a teaching career.” Well, this can only make the recruitment of young people into the ranks of teaching more difficult and it will rebound on the lives the lives of those who make these statements.

New Zealand’s current position makes it imperative that we find people willing to teach in a wide range of settings. We cannot continue to ignore the great need to recruit and train hundreds of teachers who reflect the skills, languages and community connections of Maori and Pasifika and other groups of students who would respond to teachers who can relate to them, and ideally have fluency in the language of the students in their language kit-bag.

An example. It is a lazy and unacceptable to respond to a reluctance to learn Te Reo, for instance to state that there are no opportunities because there is a shortage of teachers. New Zealand could solve this simply by recruiting Maori to be specialist teachers.

It has been disastrous to place teacher training predominantly into the hands of the universities (New Zealand has not been the only country to head done this track). Teaching as a pathway must be available to young people. Access to programmes of teacher training must be developed so that teaching is easily accessible in regional settings. There could of course be a teacher training programme in every polytechnic and institute of technology. Pukenga could respond to a challenge in this area surely. Incidentally while mentioning Pukenga, they should be thinking of playing a role in preparing teachers to service the needs of the very successful Secondary Tertiary Programmes.

New Zealand has a very successful distance learning institution, Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu. There could be a role for this organisation in providing pathways to post Year-12 students wishing to head into teaching, or members of the communities in regional cities and towns for those wishing to return to the workforce as teachers. This could be done in conjunction with universities.

There are so many ways in which shortage of teachers can be addressed and solved. Migrants are likely to be part of the solution as indeed they have been at times in the past. It is one solution, but it will never be the solution. Teaching is an area where home-grown will prove must be seen central to a great solution.

At last NZ’s Dirty Big secret is out! The issue of Truancy and Absenteeism is to be dealt with.

At last the dirty secret that educations has by and large brushed over is to be brought into the open with a serious review of absenteeism in the school system. All power to their arm. This issue has been known but ignored, been open to remediation but no action that has been effective.

And mostly that is because no-one owned the issue. The hoary old reason, the plaintiff cry of “we have no resources” – seemed to be enough to quell the concern of the community. Well, the community that cared because sections of the community were complicit in taking their children out of school, preferring instead of sending students to school, to take holidays in the South Pacific, or to be able to galavant around the snowfields of the south.

I first wrote of this issue in the 1990s. Some might remember Education Review: The Back Page. And my effort to bring this to attention has continued through to this blog, EdTalkNZ to the present time. I was also also an early-alert agent of the question the growing phenomenon of NEETs (indeed I even launched a document in the early days that drew to attention the existence of this group that was relatively unknown back then. NEETs are the alumni of truants and those groups that do not go to school or are selective in turning up.

Back in 2010 I gave a presentation at the Eastern Institute of Technology which beat the drums I was beating then, and which was typical of the many presentations (at that time being on a mission to explain the Tertiary High School opening that year at Manukau Institute of Technology). 

20% of 16-year-old students were not at school when they turned 16-years old and became legally able to leave school – most of these students must have had parents / guardians who turned a blind eye however grudgingly.

30,000 truants from secondary school each day (this was in 2010 remember- the number of secondary and primary truants are getting up to the 80,000 mark). 

School stand-downs were running at 4,000 a year (in 2010).

4,500 students were leaving primary school but failing to enter a secondary school (in 2010).

80% of youth appearing in the Youth Court have left or are absent from school (in 2010).

48% pf school leavers going to a tertiary provider successfully completed a postsecondary qualification (2010). This issue has been replaced by the pattern that 50% of secondary school leavers in the Southern Auckland area leave school not intending (or perhaps not knowing) where they will go in the next year (in 2019).

Meanwhile by 2010 the number of NEETs had grown to something between 17,000 and 25,000. Why the huge range? New Zealand was grappling with getting clear definition – who should or who should not be included in this category – youths seeking a job for instance?

My point is – those statistics are from 12 years ago. And the statistics of today have finally drawn the Government to say enough is enough. NZ has deluded itself with thinking that we have a great schooling system – what we have is a bipolar system where one half does well and the other half does not. 

It is abundantly clear that the issues can be addressed but only if there is some courage in understanding the reasons why the system has broken down. Hard solutions will be needed. and hard solutions can be found. Answers lie in the Ministry having the courage to stop the rort that allows students to stay at home – the parents must be hauled into line but only if the outcome of the review leads to a system in which students are motivated by an appropriate curriculum, taught well, one which has purpose. Parents also need to see a purposeful future for the children.

Secondary Tertiary Programmes show that students can be motivated if they see the promise of a future. Ask one of the 45,000 students who have found purpose in programmes that give a glimpse of the future.

But breaking news, its official folks – 40 %of New Zealand’s school students are playing hookey!

Words, Words, Words! Sorry….Sir!

“Words, Words, Words, 

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Shakespeare was his usual perceptive self when giving these lines to Hamlet and Polonius. Hamlet is When asked  about his reading matter his answer reflects a despair at knowing that his words mean little. And so might our words have less impact while our motives are well meaning.

When I became a principal there were times when I was called on to resolve an issue between school children – antagonisms, scraps, actions that hurt others, things said that sting. I started off in thinking that quite often in these circumstances an apology was an appropriate ending to such discussions. But I quickly learnt that an apology can simply be an easy way out, a proxy for a sound conclusion. It might be this for both the aggressor and for me but the aggrieved remained aggrieved. It was much better to focus on acknowledging what has happened in order to agree on how behaviour or understand will remediate what needs changing and agreeing to do just that.

I wonder whether New Zealand is drifting in a cult of “sorry”-ness, the habit of making an apology as an easy way out. A quick and seemingly tidy way to conclude an issue especially when you see that apology oiled with phrases such as “we need to move on” and other mock-heroic gestures.

Increasingly I see a line-up of events where huge damage has eventuated demanding a response that goes far beyond an apology.

I was working in South Auckland at the height of the Dawn Raids, a brutal and unforgivable period of intrusion, hurt and damage, – actual, pecuniary, of mana, of hurt to families – all this simply because citizens who were doing no harm failed to have the correct papers. We have seen such actions in the regimes of other countries. They were dark and threatening days! Is saying “sorry” adequate?

The events at Mt Alice Psychiatric Hospital, recently in the media, got worse as they were unfolded. Seemingly “sorry” was used to lessen the hurt of the actions that to any ordinary person seemed unbelievably cruel if not barbaric and to draw the matters to a close. Is saying sorry to be the last word or to draw the matters to a close?

Now I am not putting “remorse” into the same category as “sorry” or two – the courts make effective use of the concept of remorse and act to recognise remorse when it shows. That is ensuring that the offender has genuinely reflected on the harm caused and often the sentencing process makes rulings reflecting the view that being “sorry” is not enough. Victims often comment on the fact that remorse has not been shown by the offending party.

In short, sometimes saying “sorry” is simply not enough and the response needs to go further in recognising this.  A list could also include Pike River, Whaakari/White Island, and the transgressions of government ministries, departments and agencies which seem to trot out their CEOs to make apologies at the drop of a hat. 

I have deliberately not included the Treaty of Waitangi process which seems to me to have got it right. An apology with the full might of the current Government and accompanied by recompense for the hurt, the impact on lives and addresses of iwi to get on with resources to build new and better futures. An honest attempt is made to right wrongs. There are lessons in this when saying sorry is a meaningful process with high levels of engagement between the aggrieved and the perpetrator sorrowful events.

Let’s have a Review, I love music!

It was interesting to read in Ed Insider this week that the Ministry of Education had finally got around to trying to give meaning to the relatively flaccid rounds of consultation in 2018 about NCEA which all the mark of a search for change when it was the pattern, in Charles Payne’s terms of a reform searching for a change to make. 

I wonder if NZQA has been involved in this. I wonder if the outcomes of the Bali Haque soul searching that went on back in 2018 are substantial. I wonder too if those consultations undertaken three years ago, still stand. And was that consultation credible?

I have made no secret of the fact that over the thirty years I have been close to NCEA and know that it has served its purpose of giving credit when a student’s work has shown evidence of competence in this credit-based system that replaced the mad criterion-referenced that rewarded those going to university but did nothing but damage to the rest. Credit can now be given when it is due.

W. Edwards Deming was adamant that “If it was not necessary to make a change, it was necessary not to change.” A pause to reflect on NCEA and the need for change might conclude that it does not require wholesale change.

Some educators and members of the public have not realised that the worm has turned. Thousands of students have shown what a system that gives credit where credit is earned can do. And its use is spread well across the sector. That it is a usefully flexible assessment regime was demonstrated by the Minister in his decision to allocate additional credits during Covid-19. To note that learners can demonstrate learning at a Level should be enough to allocate additional credits especially at Level 1 and Level 2. I wonder about Level 3 which is the launching pad for serious employment-related learning – it is at that point that vested interest of employers cuts in.

We are given reasons why the review is to take place – some comments.

Accessibility: “Well-proven” would not be an exaggeration for the extent NCEA is accepted and accessed by students. 

Status: There is a case for a review of NCEA regarding Matauranga Maori and NCEA both in terms of standards and ensuring that the courses are available. This should not be an issue as there are providers who attend to issues of access.

Literacy / Numeracy: There is no issue with this provided students are equipped with something to be literate and numerate about. Why is it that students leave school to undertake a programme that has applied learning, managed transition, and clear pathways, having struggled with Literacy and Numeracy when it is studied for obvious reason, perform well when the literacy and numeracy standards are embedded in another curriculum? Study of material presented for no obvious reason is pointless, as experience has sadly demonstrated.

Fewer larger standards: Some people get excited about the size of standards. In truth it is less of an issue in terms of size but, more importantly, each standard should have a coherence and integrity and encompass a skill, or skills, that make sense and leads to a sound demonstration of learning.

Simplifying the Structure of NCEA: Complexity and gobbledygook are entirely the outcomes that of a system that is low in trust of teachers, that believes that a standards-based assessment regime must have some of the tricks, the smoke, and the mirrors of the previous examination system. NCEA is inherently simple, that is both its efficacy and its appeal. It is time that this was realised and appreciated. Yes, it could be even further simplified but that does not mean the talking in tongues that went on previously.

Clearer pathways to work:  Hallelujah!!! At last, a desire to comment NCEA to the real world of work and employment. Well, this need not wait for great soul searching and the development of theories and plans. It is already well and truly embedded in Trades Academies known both formally and formerly known as Secondary/Tertiary Programmes. Yes, its really true, right now in 10,250 students are engaged in NCEA in 2021. In the period such offerings have existed (2011 to 2020) approximately 45,000 unique students have had substantial success and high progression rate to employment and/or further education and training.

Keeping NCEA Level 1 optional: This is good news. When the steps on the ladder start with a large step upward the chance of reaching the second step is diminished. Many students need the encouragement, the taste of success and affirmation of their ability. 

Minister Hopkins provided a wonderful example of the flexibility of NCEA during the Covid-19 lockdowns when he created additional credits which rewarded resilience credits for students recognising that students had through the trials and tribulations of the pandemic, demonstrated additional learning. The world did not come to an end.

The system is stuck in a rut!

It seems that the automatic reflex response to any issue related to schooling in New Zealand is “We don’t have the resources!”

Absenteeism, truancy, declining levels of achievement in Mathematics (sometimes called Numeracy) / Reading and Writing (sometimes called Literacy) and unease about digital and social media skills, and so on. You name it, except for meals at school (which schools should rightly sheet home to the Ministry of Education as one of its responsibilities) the response to criticism is a quick “We don’t have the resources! When a longer response is needed usually from the senior folk in the system

Prolong the explanation which when boiled down amounts to “We don’t have the resources!”

Well, the good news is that the resources are there – they are called school funding and are provided so that schools can provide the activities that will lead to satisfactory and acceptable or better outcomes in reading and writing and mathematics, assist students development of personal and social skills at an age appropriate level and, address the key features of the History of Aotearoa New Zealand although that appears to be controversial even before we know how it is going to be tackled in six months’ time.

As Albert Einstein (and others) have said over time, “to continue to do things which have failed over time is a sign of madness.” I don’t accept the description of “school failure” as “madness” because it masks a much more invidious but benign thing that is the cause of failure and that is ineffectiveness. This is irritating and frustrating for all and is not what teachers signed up for. On the other hand, it is over to teachers to be to change the way schools work, to create a curriculum that is inclusive and to inject a spirit of optimism into a sector that increasingly shows despair. Charles Payne looks around the US education system and simply sees his mantra being played out – “so much reform, so little change!”

Teacher-led reform could I believe produce solutions to the “issues” that are so daunting because the solutions are largely out of their hands. Sheet the solutions home to those who can and must respond.

Truancy belongs to the Ministry of Education – they are the guardians of the education laws in New Zealand and the flagrant abuse of the law in this area beggars belief. For too long teachers have had to have their programmes disrupted by sporadic attention to absences which is against the law and emphasizes the view that if you are not at school there is a likelihood that you are not learning or worse. Up to this point answers to this crisis have not been found while the pile of NEETs simply continues to grow. We need some priority here.

Teachers could help and will help if they are able to place the skills and knowledge on the things they can influence and central to this is a curriculum that attracts students, provides them with skills and interest and a view of the future, a line of sight to what with the help of teachers they are able to achieve. If teachers are distracted from this by needing to do the work of others then the community will just have to put up with it. If students do not get the benefits of knowing how to do sums, to read and write, to work harmoniously with others, and to a willingness to bring energy to going to school they will face a bleak future. So will parents, and the nation, come to that!

Earning your Crust

New Zealand has been slow to consider in any serious way the issue of school lunches and meals. We have been slow to recognise the opportunities that school lunches must compensate for health and nutrition issues for those who for one reason or another would benefit from a good feed at least once a day. And lunch is when, supposedly, all young people are at school and when the provision of a hot meal, of nutritional value and served in warm pleasant facilities would be of value.

The United States recognises children from families as being “eligible for a school lunch/meal”. In fact, eligibility for a school meal is a key measure, and they know with some precision who those students are. Household incomes below 130% of the poverty level make the cut! Families eligible for SNAP or TANF (both cash assistance schemes) are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. I have been in US schools and seen this in operation – it works well and makes a difference. And the meals are served in fit for purpose facilities.

In England and Scotland, all infant state school pupils (those in Reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time – it is available but not compulsory. If a child qualifies for school meals, they remain are eligible until they go right through their primary and/or secondary – an extension being brought in next year.

Australian kids are much like Kiwi kids and they either bring their lunches from home, or they get food from a canteen or tuck shop. In Australia parents ordering can do the ordering for their kids or give them money to buy sandwiches or snacks. In both countries the provision of lunches in low-income schools has been slow to make an appearance. But it is now happening.

In New Zealand and in Australia there is another category of student, those who go without, those who experience hunger, or who rely on food choices that do not provide the nutritional boost that a better food choice would.

While the descriptions of the burgeoning and relatively new provision of meals in NZ school are heartening when the result is a healthy and nutritional contribution, they also can sometimes disappoint when the enthusiasm to deliver seems to have out stripped the resources available. There are also questions to be asked about the quality – surely the reported lunches consisting of two pretzels and a muffin are not true! And the stories of cold meals served up late are a worry.

The responsibility for the quality of meals in schools should be spelt out clearly and be subject to a set of clear nutritional values approved by either or both Ministries of Education and Health. There should be professional supervisors who oversee the preparation and delivery of the meals. There would be people in the community who would welcome employment in such a role. I recall the great work done by the Dinner Ladies in the school my sone attended in a village in Essex, UK years ago. The provision of food for school students is the responsibility of the government rather rely exclusively on volunteers.

School meals are too important to be a project for students – let’s mobilise the communities to contribute this critical area.