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RICHARD PREBBLE: We must get our children back to school 


It will not matter what was agreed in 1840 if the coalition cannot get our children back to school. Most children do not attend school regularly. Nations that do not educate the next generation are doomed to fail.


In the 3rd term last year most Pakeha pupils, 52%, did not go to school regularly. The kiwi malaise is affecting Asian students. 42% of Asian pupils were not regular attenders. Two thirds of Maori and Pacifica pupils were regularly absent.


90% attendance is enough to be marked a regular attender but not enough to ensure educational success. The education department’s research shows missing just one day affects NCEA results. Pupils who have 50% attendance, the Maori and Pacifica average, have zero chance of passing NCEA. 


It gets worse.


An estimated 10,000 school aged children, that is the population of Whakatane, are not even enrolled at a school. 


In the latest OECD International Student Assessment (OISA) New Zealand 15-year-olds have dropped 15 points for maths and 4-5 points for reading. Once New Zealand ranked near the top of international education assessment. Now third world nations get better scores.


The Education Department research reveals that pupils who never miss a day of school pass NCEA. Lifting attendance will lift educational achievement.  


In Tomorrow’s Schools Labour put seven legal requirements on school boards plus schools must honour the treaty. There is no legal requirement for schools that pupils attend school. 


We can blame parents. We can require schools to keep better records. We can hire truancy officers. It did not work for Labour. Why would it work for the coalition?


The community knows who those 10,000 missing pupils are. The community must be empowered to get children back into education. In some cases, it will be as simple as having someone take the child to school. 


When my father retired, he volunteered to help his local school. They told him of a mother who was keeping her son at home. My father collected that boy for school every day. For another solo mother, my parents became her son’s adopted grandparents. That boy is now a doctor.


There are truants that just taking them to school will not work. When I chaired the cabinet committee on employment, we discovered most youth unemployed were functionally illiterate and innumerate.  We invited the community to provide training. Community groups like the YMCA responded with very successful programs that got young people into employment. Such organizations could run programs for truants, reintroduce them to learning so they can rejoin school. 


There is one very successful program that has taken pupils whose school attendance was irregular and NCEA scores were failing. Charter Schools  improved pupils’ attendance and lifted pupils’ NCEA scores above the national average.   


In every charter there was a requirement that pupils attend regularly.  Regular attendance may be the reason charter schools were so successful.  Maori and Pacific pupils who had been failing had their NCEA scores lifted above the average for all students.


Regular attendance should be a legal requirement for all schools. 


Schools today are paid for the number of pupils that they enroll, not the number they teach. In some states in America schools are paid for the number of pupils who sit the standardized assessment. Students must be at school to be assessed so schools prioritize attendance. If we only paid schools for the number of pupils assessed attendance would be every school’s priority.


We know public charter schools lift education achievement. An independent review reported to the Labour government that the charter schools were a success. Labour abolished charter schools claiming the government would lift Maori and Pacifica achievement. Attendance and achievement both fell.   

There is an article in this month’s Economist magazine on a Standford University comprehensive study of charter schools that in America educate four million pupils. The study found Charter Schools are excelling. On average charter school pupils are outperforming the public-school average. The Economist describes “hundreds of successful charters where disadvantaged pupils (black, Hispanic, poor pupils or English-learners) performed similarly to or better than their more advantaged peers”.  

The magazine notes that “Democrats have no obvious parent-friendly education policy to promote now they have turned away from charter-school expansion”. So too for the Labour Party. 

Every pupil should be able to attend a public charter school freed from the bureaucracy of a one size fits all system. It is how we will once again lead in educational achievement. 


National and Act’s coalition agreement provides for public charter schools and to allow state schools to become charter schools. The sooner the better.


Like my father before me, I am volunteering to assist in educating the young. I am going to do what I can so every child has the opportunity of a public charter school education. 

The Honourable Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.

This piece was first published in the NZHerald

2,456 views108 comments


With such statistical horrors presenting themselves, maybe a higher power is keeping our children being indoctrinated by woke, gay, leftist, anarchic, purposeless, useless educators? Quote: "...National doesn’t have a hope of  trying to reverse the shocking decline in education standards as long as the control of the curriculum and the overseeing of schools –  of education philosophy and practices – lies in the  hands of our Marxist-infiltrated Ministry of Education."

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Excellent article. Thank you. The problem is school attendance. The curricula, the types of schools (e.g.charter schools) can be decided by Government and we hope they will. The attendance is the matter of family. How to make family, parents to understand that the school attendance is compulsory? By compulsion. If a family receives money from the state on the behalf of the kids, so if the kids are not given the basic care (going to doctors) and do not attend school, the money should be taken away.


Browsing Rose Hipkins’ NZCER (NZ Council for Educational Research) website, as one does when seeking (or maybe not) educational guidance (‘Our purpose centres on whakatere tōmua / wayfinding. Whakatere tōmua is our mahi. Our purpose—through research, resources, and services—is to find ways for kaiako, ākonga, and whānau to have the best possible education experiences and outcomes’) I came across a blog opining that the NCEA’s new literacy and numeracy co-requisite could ‘… do more harm than good’.

This apparently is because many students will struggle to pass the tests and will therefore jeopardise their chances of achieving NCEA. This is contrary to NCEA’s globally unique ‘’underpinning belief that all students should be able to achieve’.’

The author therefore suggests:

· …

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Reminiscent of an old " Hot Chocolate " song " Everyone's a Winner ."

At Otago Uni, 30 years ago, we were regaled with the reasons for supporting/promoting equity ????

One of Slack Jaw Jackson's, 90 % European, cousins was a major driver at lectures plus O'Regans relatives. Nothing changes. It's just got louder !!!!!


The current state of the education system, due in no small part to the constant changes to the curriculum by so called experts in the guise of progress, is such that I am reminded of the quote attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter (alias Titus Petronius Niger; AD 27 - AD 66):

“We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.”

Or another more colloquial expression; "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

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Old Gaius, he had it in one. I'd mow his lawns for free.


There are good comments being made here. I don't need to add any. Amy Brooke's latest blog is also on this.

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Thank you for that excellent link.

I recall that when I lived in Australia, many moons ago, there was a saying " Keep New Zealand Green. Tell 'em nothing." On reflection, I reckon that many of our politicians adopted this mantra. ??

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