Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 17, July 19, 1976.
Education... Who Suffers?
Education... Who Suffers?
The Student Bursaries Campaign is intricately tied up with the general cuts being foisted upon all parts of the Education system by the National Government. Last week Salient reporter James Robb journeyed down to Newtown School to ask the school committee chairman David Robinson about the effects of the cuts on primary education.
How have the education cuts affected Newtown School?
There are two separate areas. One is the cut in staffing - the availability of relief teachers and ancillary staff. We've had two ancillary workers who do such things as taking lunch money, running off newsletters and other minor administrative jobs in the school. But the number of hours they are allowed to work has been cut by about ten hours a week. Their jobs have still got to be done, and so the work falls on to the regular teachers who are again taken away from the classroom. This is on top of the problems associated with the cut in relief teachers. If you have a teacher away you have the headmaster looking after a classroom and also somehow struggling to keep up with the administrative work. It adds up to a poorer education for all our pupils.
These cuts perhaps affect Newtown School more than other schools. Although you can juggle around and get someone standing in front of the class, you can't continue on with the programme that you were doing.
Why do you think Newtown is suffering the most?
The special emphasis on a place like Newtown is because of the high number of children who do not speak English at home. We try to on occasions divide the classes up into smaller groups and take some of them out on special language projects. If in fact you don't have the normal relieving staff coming in and the children are left in a group of 35 with the Head coming into teach them, then they do not receive the individual attention that they need. We are caught in a trap then. On one level the Government recognises the school as being in a special educational area (and so we have two or three extra staff in the language field), but the recent cuts have not allowed us to make effective use of the extra aids we have been given.
The general cuts have affected most schools - relieving teachers, teacher aids and ancillary staff - but Newtown is again singled out because the school is scheduled for rebuilding. The primer block at Newtown was built in 1893 and has been condemned for about 20 or 30 years. It was meant to be rebuilt this year. It is fairly substandard in that the windows don't open and its a very dingy 90 year old building. Because it was going to be rebuilt there has been no maintenance done. There are holes in one or two of the walls, the paint's peeling off and the heating is very poor. Newtown children are sitting in a building which is gradually falling to pieces. At the same time, presumably because of the education cuts, the Wellington Education Board hasn't got enough money to put the job into this year's works programme. It was meant to be starting sometime during this financial year. They drew up draft plans last year when the school committee and the teachers met with the education board.
As well as the primer block, the toilet block was also to be rebuilt. There is only one toilet block for Newtown School and that is an outdoor one, which is about 100 yards from the nearest classroom. We had the Medical Officer of Health down to the school last week and he noted 12 things that needed immediate attention in the toilet block. We feel particularly hard done by. There was a film made for Gallery in 1969 outlining the poor conditions in Wellington schools particularly in the toilet areas. I was shown a copy of that film two weeks ago and all of those schools have been renovated except for Island Bay and Newtown, which are both in the less affluent areas of Wellington.
One thing that has made the Newtown parents particularly unhappy is that they have raised $10,000 from housie evening, but this is sitting in the bank. A letter has been sent to the Wellington Education Board offering them $10,000 when the school is rebuilt to provide a larger than normal library. The parents are becoming a little cynical. We hope to get the work on this year's building programme. The Education Board say they may get it on next year's.
The thing that has finally got most people pissed off in Newtown is the impression that the state of some facilities existing in New town would not be tolerated by people living in more affluent areas. The system that has been devised regarding priority being given to providing buildings in new areas (and school halls to those who can raise a certain percentage of the money beforehand) means that Newtown will always be pushed to the bottom of the list because of its socio-economic nature. It doesn't matter whether it is a conscious decision of the Education Board or not - the net effect is still the same, that in the areas of greatest need you find the worst facilities.
If the Government was concerned not just about education but about a whole range of related social problems then it would be doing something positive to tackle it rather than hiding behind regulations which say that something is a priority and something else is not a priority. When you get the headmaster of the s school saying that they're the worst conditions that he's taught in for 30 years, when you get the chairman of the Education Board saying the buildings are a top priority, and when you get the Medical Officer of Health saying that it is vital that the toilets are rebuilt, then you wonder why you can't actually go ahead and put it on to the programme. Whether this is a fair criticism or not, the people in Newtown feel that they are being kept at the bottom of the list.
The problem is firstly that there is no money coming from the Department to the board and secondly that the priorities are, according to the board, always given to building new schools. So if the area doesn't have one, a school must be built. Unfortunately, the areas that need new schools tend to be the newer better-off suburbs. If you went out to Crofton Downs or to Whit by you'd find nice new primary schools fully up to standard with all the facilities, teaching aids and playground space. But if you have a look at Newtown, Clyde Quay or Mt Cook, you will find that they are very under provided with play space and that they have got completely different populations than they had 10-15 years ago, with probably greater needs than those at Whit by or Crofton Downs. But because this area is not seen by the board as a new area it is put at the bottom of the list. This results in the facilities becoming less and less adequate as the population using it becomes more and more demanding.
What does the School Committee intend doing about the education cuts?
The committee had a public meeting on 28 June to raise the issue. One thing that we were particularly fed up with was that not only did the Minister of Education not appear. All he sent us was a letter saying he couldn't attend and a copy of National's election policy on Education. The Wellington National MPs did not attend neither did the requested "Government spokesman on Education". We did have Trevor Young, a Labour MP, who has offered to take the case up at Parliament, but it was particularly bad because the meeting ended up abusing the Education Board, which shouldn't have had to accept responsibility for the Government's actions. IT is the Government that has decided to cut back not the Education Board. So, in retrospect, it was a very frustrating meeting. But at the end of it we did pass a resolution that we would send a deputation to the Minister, ask for Newtown School to be made a special case, and ask for money to be made available immediately for building purposes. So far we haven't even had a reply from the Minister to the letter.
As far as the teachers are concerned, it was interesting that when they had the demonstration outside Parliament, there were 15 teachers from Newtown School there (the school was closed during that day), with full support of the school committee and the headmaster and staff. The staff have also had two special meetings of the New Zealand Education Institute at Newtown School. They have secured a report from the Wellington branch to make Newtown a special case. They have done their bit at the moment. The question is. - "what do we do if there's no response?" So far we've had the parents, staff, Education Board and Health Department all agreeing that this should be a top priority, but we seem to be getting no response from the Government.
Are there any other groups besides the non-English speaking children who are affected by the cuts?
All of the children at Newtown School are affected. The local kindergarten had to cut back earlier on its development programmes, this follows through to our school, and now we see Wellington High School (where most of the kids will go) is also having to curtail some of its activities. Everyone in a class suffers equally. All you've got to do is to go down to the school, walk through it, and then go out to one of these newer primary schools - then compare the difference.
What are the long-term effects on the pupils?
The long-term effects are merely to keep people in the situation that they find themselves at the moment. It contradicts the Government's education policy (a copy of which we received from the Minister when he couldn't attend our meeting) which was a very optimistic document that talked of special provision for Polynesian education, problems of Pacific Islanders, helping Maori education, and improving facilities in the inner city areas. It promised to put education in its place relative Jo other policies, such as social welfare, unemployment and the Police.
It seemed to be an accepted fact that it was essential to to provide education opportunities especially in areas of stress. In reality this policy has gone straight out the window and they're simply delaying things so that in future twice as much will have to be spent on the areas which they're ignoring now. It's quite interesting to see that the only department that hasn't had a ceiling put on its personnel is the Police Department. And at the moment I understand that the Police Youth Aid section has just been permitted to recruit another 14 staff members - it seems a rather back-to-front way of doing things.