Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Green Party unveils $90m education plan

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei announced the policy today. File photo / Brett Phibbs
Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei announced the policy today. File photo / Brett Phibbs

Labour has already given a conditional tick of approval to the Green Party's $90 million a year policy today aimed at low-decile schools, including free after school care, a free lunch, and nurses in every school.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins said Labour broadly supported the education measures, which also included setting up 'hubs' in schools to ensure children and their parents received the services they needed.

Mr Hipkins said Labour had also advocated expanding the role of schools in communities by providing more support.

He also agreed with the Green Party proposal to build more early childhood centres in schools.

"While there will naturally be discussion about respective priorities and timing, today's announcements by the Green Party are a welcome addition to the education policy debate and provide a clear marker of the type of initiatives we can work closely together on.:

The Green Party has launched its election year today by announcing the $90 million a year package for low decile schools, including free after school care and holiday programmes, free lunches, and school nurses in every decile 1-4 primary and intermediate school.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei announced the package, dubbed Schools at the Heart, at the Green's annual `State of the Planet' picnic in Wellington today.

She said the measures were aimed at tackling inequality and would be delivered through "community hubs'' set up in every decile 1-4 primary and intermediate schools. The party also wanted to build at least 20 new early childhood centres in low decile primary schools, which it expected to cost $25 million.

"The evidence shows that if kids are fed, are healthy and have the support services they need then they do better at school. This announcement represents a significant commitment to eradicating inequality in New Zealand and it's effects.''

The hubs would be led by a school hub coordinator whose role would be to recruit adult and community educators, as well as early childhood, social and health services, and look at other ways to develop services which were needed in any particular school community.

Ms Turei said ensuring children were fed and healthy was critical for learning.

"Kids in lower decile schools will be fed through a national school lunch fund, sick kids will get medical attention from dedicated school nurses, and families will get the support they need to work, further their own education and be engaged in their kids' learning.''

The hub coordinators would take the workload of establishing the hubs off teachers and leave them free to teach.

Ms Turei was critical of the National Party's education announcement last week. That policy rewarded good teachers and principals and set up a system for them to share their skills and knowledge across other schools. Ms Turei said it did nothing to address the primary cause of under-achievement which was poverty.

Education was the most important factor in a child's ability to escape poverty, she said.

"But's that's a challenge because a poor kid here is less likely to do well at school than a poor kid in almost any other developed country.''

The Greens policy would secure savings in health, education, stable school rolls as well as stronger communities, she said.

Ms Turei also said reducing inequality would be the Greens' primary focus in the election year. She said the party's time had come to be part of a Government, and although it recognised it would have to compromise for that to happen, it would not compromise on its values such as reducing inequality.

In May last year, Prime Minister John Key announced a further $9.5 million over five years for the current KickStart programme run by Fonterra and Sanitarium. That was to allow the breakfast in low decile schools programme to be extended to five days a week and to more schools.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the Greens appeared to be unaware of what happened every day in schools.

"We already have around 300 nurses working with virtually every school in the country and with a particular focus on low decile-schools. We already provide social workers for every decile 1 to 3 primary school in the country, under the Social Workers in Schools scheme.

Ms Parata said there were already a number of schools operating as community hubs so it was not a new idea and should not be forced on every school.

The Government, in conjunction with Fonterra and Sanitarium, already provided a breakfast in schools programme and had increased funding to KidsCan, which who provided necessities to children.

"We already subsidise after-school care and holiday care for about 50,000 children, with assistance targeted at low-income families. We are already investing $1.5 billion in early childhood education, up from $860 million in 2007/08,'' Ms Parata said.

"The Greens should do their homework. They are clearly unaware of all the things the Government is doing in this area, and they are also clearly in denial that the biggest influence on children's achievement is quality teaching.''

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The policy included:

* employing a hub coordinator in each of the targeted schools, at a cost of $28.5 million;

* free after school and holiday care programmes for the targeted schools at a cost of $10 million a year, as well as extending the current after-school care subsidies to children at decile 5-10 schools;

* a national school lunch fund, expected to cost $40 million a year, to provide lunch at all decile 1-4 schools, and other schools where there was a need; and

* dedicated school nurses in the targeted schools, expected to cost $11.6 million a year.

- NZ Herald

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