The big school shake-up: Parents react to kids unable to speak properly

The Herald revealed today that an investigation had been launched into why many new entrants are turning up for their first day at school with poor linguistic skills.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has asked officials to look into what is behind the apparent trend and what can be done to address it.

One school principal has told the Herald that New Zealand-born children at his school spoke with American accents because they'd learned to speak watching the Disney Channel.


As part of a two-day series, the Herald also analysed a number of other proposals to shake up the education sector.

We asked parents to tell us how their children were affected. Here is what they said:

Robyn Lewis

I was just reading children struggling with languages. Well my two grandchildren are always playing on their iPads. They don't talk to you and when you ask them anything they won't answer you and when I used to mind them while their father worked, I used to try and read them a story out of a book. No they didn't want it, they just wanted to play on their iPads. I fear when they get jobs, what is going to happen if they don't talk?

Sandra Gordon

My son at 4.5 yrs had poor verbal skills. He had two older sisters who did not have any issues. He could not pronounce words so he could be understood. I had tried speech therapy. Some of his playmates were the same and causing concern for their parents. They were attending a good North Shore primary and had attended kindy.

My son, as an adult, has excellent communication skills and a first class honours degree in engineering.

My advice is don't worry about it, they get there in their own time.

Kathryn Dixon

My son became very unhappy and lost confidence etc after starting school, so after a reasonable period to see if things would change, I asked him if he would like to return to kindy for a while.

After thinking about it for a week or so, he told me he would. However, while his kindy was very helpful and supportive, they were advised by "HQ" that once a child started school they were in fact not allowed to re-enrol with an early education provider.

How is this in the best interests of the child?

The school have been very clear that they have little to no resources to support my son (who has some developmental delays), but he wasn't allowed to return to kindy until he was more able to cope with the chaotic, chronically overcrowded new entrants class at our local school.

I've even been informed this week that my son is already being moved on from the new entrants class, after only two terms, due to lack of space.

Cherie Underwood

Head teacher, Woodlands Park Community Kindergarten

Our centre promotes learning and readiness for school through an age-appropriate programme which includes formal mat times and sharing of news. This structure is valued by our kindergarten families.

However, it has been criticised by ERO who seek that we "educate" our families on the benefits of unstructured sessions.

Feedback from local schools is that children who leave this kindergarten are capable of sitting at mat time to learn, sharing news, and are competent and confident speakers and learners.

Education Minister Hekia Parata is behind a education shake-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Hekia Parata is behind a education shake-up. Photo / Mark Mitchell

John Paynter

I support the changes with the possible exception of budgeting ones (more level of detail would be needed). I was on a School Board of Trustees for six years (as Treasurer) and school accounts were very complex to me, although I am used to dealing with business and not-for-profit accounts. I also worked at the Ministry of Education as a planner on a short-term project.

I worry about online education. It may suit some who are bullied at school if there is no other fix, but socialisation of children during these years is important.

My daughters did not automatically start school at 5. The elder delayed until the following year, mainly to stay at kindergarten with a younger friend, although I do wonder in retrospect if she would have been better off starting earlier in the final school term of the year.

My younger daughter started before she turned 5 at the beginning of the school year.

Both girls were already well-advanced in reading ability, as I read to them at home and took an active interest in their early education. I think parents as first teachers is vital. Both have done well academically and in the community.

Conversely my mother started at school at age 6 due to the Polio epidemic at the time. I believe that was when the legislation was brought in to not start until 6 (delaying was mandatory due to the Polio outbreak at the time). I wonder why a start at 5 (or a time close to it to coincide with terms) is not made uniformly for everyone.

Richard Storey

The NKA [Northland Kindergarten Association] has 22 kindergartens in various communities throughout Northland, we have a diverse range of families and children with different levels of communication skills and social skills.

For the past 6 years we have employed a full-time speech and language therapist to work directly with the children needing assistance and also provide training for parents and our teachers.

Gay Easterbrook is our therapist and she has personally worked with over 600 children and families in that time. Gay works with the children once they have been referred to her by the parents after initially being approached by the teachers who identify the issues.

The teachers have been trained by Gay to identify issues which are not normal development steps at an early stage, from there the teachers meet with the parents and explain the services we can provide. If they agree the parents make a referral and Gay commences an assessment phase. If the child requires high level and long term assistance Gay makes a referral to Ministry Special Ed on behalf of the parent/child.

If the issue is less serious Gay commences working with the child and the family. Sometimes it may only take 6-10 sessions for a communication speech issue to be resolved. But if left unattended it can create major problems further down the track.

Gay visits the children at kindergarten during session times, visits the homes to work with the parents and also runs clinics at our training facility in Kamo.

This service is completely free and for that reason I can't understand why all ECE providers who receive Government bulk funding are not required to provide the same type of service?

Lisa Randel

I am a speech language therapist and I was most surprised to see that the report had not mentioned Speech Language Therapy - the profession that works with and specialises in treating communication and feeding disorders.

The "children with American accents" who also made no eye contact could possibly have had a mild form of autism. Vowel distortion, reduced eye contact and delayed language development are three of many possible features of a mild autistic spectrum disorder.

In children that present with mild forms of ASD the symptoms are very subtle. It could also be other things. Obviously a diagnosis cannot be made from a news item but that was the first thing that came to mind for me.

The school diagnosed the problem rather than seeking out expert advice. Teachers, while experts in the field of education, are not experts in communication difficulties and disorders.

That pretty much encapsulates the problem - if a speech language therapist had been asked about these children there could have been an assessment and support for them before they started school.

There are speech language therapy services in both the health and education systems.

However, there is insufficient funding for Speech Language Therapy in NZ, particularly in early intervention services.

Read more
New entrants struggling to speak
School overhaul - what it means for you

- NZ Herald

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