Schools seek help as stress levels affect student performance

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Covid-19 lockdowns have increased stress levels in students (RNZ Photo)

John Gerritsen
Wellington, July 25, 2022

Secondary school principals have united to make an unprecedented call for help from the government.

They have sent letters to Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Associate Education Ministers Jan Tinetti and Kelvin Davis.

In the letter, obtained by Radio New Zealand (RNZ), the leaders of 10 regional Principals’ Associations said that schools were at or near breaking point because of the stress of ongoing staff and student absences. They implored the government to reveal as soon as possible how it would help teens pass NCEA this year.

“The disruption to learning during this calendar school year is at levels we have never experienced before. Although affecting all students, these disruptions have disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable learners. Kura (schools) are increasingly unable to deliver teaching and learning programmes or engage in agreed change processes in the face of unprecedented staff and student absences, recruitment and retention issues and surging costs (relief in particular),” the letter said.

Teenagers forfeiting hope

Counties Manukau Secondary Principals’ Association Chairperson Karen Brinsden from Botany Downs Secondary College is one of the signatories to the letter.

She told RNZ that some teens were giving up hope.

“There are a large number of students across the region who are disengaged, students who are feeling that they are too far behind to catch up or even get on top of their studies. The well-being of students is a great concern. There is a high number of students being supported by counsellors for anxiety, depression, and of course with very limited resources that schools have,” she said.

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has recognised the disruption caused by the pandemic by allowing students to earn extra credits and last year made end-of-year exams optional in the worst-affected regions.

Clarity sought from NZQA

Greater Wellington Principals’ Association Chair Kevin Carter from Rongotai College said that one option this year would be to lower the number of credits students must achieve to get an NCEA certificate.

Whatever NZQA decided, it needed to do it soon, he said.

“There should be clarity and for it to happen early and not to be a prolonged discussion about what relief is going to be on the table. We are hearing throughout the country that students’ motivation and engagement in learning is down this year,” he said.

Mr Carter said that at his own school, about half the students had been absent in the First and Second terms last year due to Covid and that a further 20% to 30% were absent because household contacts had the virus. In addition, staff were absent for the same reasons and in the second term, influenza forced about 20% of students to be absent on some days.

Identifying needy students

Canterbury and West Coast Principals’ Association President Phil Holstein from Burnside High School said that, unlike in previous years, there had been no lockdowns in regions and that would make it harder to figure out which schools needed the most help and how to provide it.

Auckland Secondary Principals’ Association President Greg Pierce from Orewa College said if the government did not act, the most vulnerable students would suffer.

“It’s disproportional the effect this could have on them if nothing is changed,” he said.

The government responds

The NZQA and Education Ministry have sent a letter to secondary principals saying that NCEA assessment changes for this year were a high priority.

“The Ministry and NZQA are looking at ways of supporting teaching and learning over the reaming period of the year, as well as the kind of changes to assessment that are appropriate to the situation in 2022,” the letter said.

It said that solutions should be equitable and proportionate to the disruption faced; credit actual learning that had occurred; be easy to understand and broadly accepted, and minimise workloads.

Ms Tinetti told RNZ that she would respond to the principals in writing and would also offer to meet them. She said that school staff were doing an extraordinary job and that the government was listening to their warnings.

“Some education work programmes have been slowed down or postponed already but that has to be balanced with the need to make changes that would make a difference in engaging students. I will continue to support the Ministry to look at options to support schools dealing with uncertainty and disruption in this Covid-19 environment,” she said.

John Gerritsen is Education Correspondent at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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