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Government on the right track to more inclusive education

The 600 new support staff for schools announced by the Ministry of Education over the weekend is a welcome advance for children in Aotearoa, and one that could not come soon enough considering the latest OECD stats on education inequality, saysChild Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

The latest UNICEF Innocenti report, An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries showed that New Zealand ranks 33 out of 38 OECD countries for education equality.

Other findings include that New Zealand has:

- the second highest gap in the OECD for reading comprehension and sits alongside Israel and Malta for the largest performance gaps;

- exceptionally high rates of bullying; and

- lower reading scores among second-generation immigrant children compared to non-immigrant children.

CPAG Co-convenor Janfrie Wakim says that all children in Aotearoa should be provided the chance to succeed.

"As UNICEF’s Viv Maidaborn has noted, the education system is working well for some but for others - especially those who are living with the impacts of poverty - it is working very poorly.

"For families with children who have other challenges such as disabilities or mental health needs, a substantial boost in provision is required to ensure that education is inclusive and that all children have access to a quality education," says Wakim.

"These 600 new staff are essential, and the move shows that the Government is truly committed to improving outcomes for children with disability and disadvantage."

Other measures that must be taken to improve outcomes for children are to increase substantially the per-student expenditure across all primary and secondary education, remove the hidden costs of a ‘free education’ such as voluntary donations, school uniform costs and NCEA and trip fees, as well as ensuring that all schools are equipped to provide for children’s diverse cultural and learning needs. Provision of adequate age-appropriate healthcare in schools, including counselling, is critical to ensuring that physical and mental health problems are identified and treated accordingly before they escalate.

"Alongside provisions inside of schools, as a nation we need to ensure that all families have an adequate income to ensure all their basic needs are met within and outside the home, and that they have safe, stable housing without being forced into constant and costly moves away from school, friends and family/whānau support," says Wakim.

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