Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Moving house - upheaval at school

Attendance suffering as low-income families hunt for homes and jobs, study finds.

Casey Tamati and Amy Kahui with Tatiana, 6, Shontae, 11, Gabriel, 4, and Teariki, 2. Photo / Greg Bowker
Casey Tamati and Amy Kahui with Tatiana, 6, Shontae, 11, Gabriel, 4, and Teariki, 2. Photo / Greg Bowker

Children are coming and going between the country's poorest primary schools at a rate equivalent to half the schools' total rolls every year, a report has found.

Average student movements, or "churn", added up to 52.8 per cent of the rolls of schools in the poorest (decile 1) neighbourhoods last year, compared with 29.4 per cent in the richest (decile 10) areas.

But churn rates across all deciles have fallen during the past four years, apparently because shortages of both housing and jobs have forced many families to stay where they are.

The report by the Child Poverty Action Group, The revolving door: Student mobility in Auckland schools, found that work and housing were the two main reasons why many low-income families moved.

"The solution must be a political one: broad-based commitment is needed to ensure families have stable, affordable accommodation, and that economic growth provides steady, well-paid jobs," it said.

Education Ministry data cited in the report showed that churn rates in decile 1 primary schools fell from 61.1 per cent in 2010 to 52.8 per cent last year.

The ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said the churn rate counted students moving between schools twice - once when they left one school and once when they enrolled at their new school. That "double counting" meant that the number actually leaving any particular school would be about half of the quoted churn rates, or about 26 per cent for decile 1 schools.

The figures exclude new entrants who started school when they turned 5.

A separate Child Poverty Action survey of 52 schools in South and West Auckland, which counted only new enrolments and not departures, found enrolments averaging 22 per cent, down from 29 per cent in a similar survey in 2001. New enrolments, also excluding new entrants at age 5, ranged from 8.6 per cent of rolls in decile 10 schools up to 30.4 per cent in decile 1 schools.

However ministry data showed that only 0.5 per cent of students across all schools nationally moved schools twice or more last year. This figure has been stable since 2009 except for a slight blip up to 0.6 per cent in 2011 after the Christchurch earthquake.

The decline in the broader churn rate is in line with last year's Census, which found a sharp reversal of a long-term trend towards increased population mobility. About 52 per cent of people had moved in the previous five years at the 1991 Census, rising to 53.5 per cent in 1996, 56 per cent in 2001 and 58.9 per cent in 2006.

This dropped back to just 50.6 per cent last year. Waikato University Professor Jacques Poot said likely causes were higher unemployment, the housing shortage and the ageing population.

A 2008 report by the Council of Educational Research concluded that schools could not prevent mobility but could minimise its damage to children's education by working together in clusters and helping children develop skills to help make their learning more "portable".

Five houses in five years takes its toll on family

Manurewa parents Amy Kahui and Casey Tamati are about to move into their fifth house in five years, in a never-ending battle to find suitable housing.

Ms Kahui, 27, and Mr Tamati, 28, have four children aged 2 to 11. Mr Tamati has worked in various jobs, but is unemployed and the family rely on jobseeker support.

Four years ago they were living in a family member's garage in Rowandale Ave, Manurewa. Then they obtained a Housing NZ house in Ferguson St at the opposite end of Manurewa. But when the two youngest children arrived, the two-bedroom house became too small, so they took a private rental in Weymouth Rd last December with three bedrooms and a sleepout. They planned to cover the $600 weekly rent by taking in boarders.

A month ago the rent finally became too much to bear and the family moved into the living room of Ms Kahui's mother's one-bedroom flat in Short St in Manurewa East. They have again applied for a state house and have just been allocated one - but it is in Papakura.

"It's just a struggle that we have to make between the two of us," Ms Kahui said.

Read the full report here:

- NZ Herald

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