December 6, 2016

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Education Minister Hekia Parata asks for investigation after reports of 5-year-olds struggling to speak at school

Some children are starting school without the ability to speak in sentences, sparking a government investigation.

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.

Parata said factors could include increased screen time in front of electronic devices and fewer parents reading to their kids.

“We have been getting quite a lot of reports back – and it is becoming more consistent now – from new entrant teachers, that kids are arriving from early childhood with very poor oracy skills.

“Early childhood are reporting that kids coming to them, at 3 and 4, are also turning up with poor oracy skills.

“[It's] not just not being able to speak. Not making eye contact with adults. Their whole interaction with people. It is a mix of stuff.”

Don McLean, principal of Hampden Street School in Nelson, said the oral language skills of about 10 to 15 of the school’s 70 new entrants each year were well below standard.

“What we’re seeing is kids who don’t speak in sentences – they speak in phrases . . . and they don’t have a very wide vocabulary.

“We had boys a couple of years ago that were from a Kiwi family but spoke with American accents. It was because they’d learned to speak watching Disney Channel.”

McLean said busy and tired parents not speaking enough with their kids was a key part of the issue, with many leaving parenting to the TV and electronic devices.

Help your child with simple activities and, in doing so, have lots of conversational exchanges. Photo / 123RF

Help your child with simple activities and, in doing so, have lots of conversational exchanges. Photo / 123RF

“It might sound old school but sitting around the table at night, talking about how the day went is a great way to have those conversations.

“Reading is also very important, and don’t just read to them or get them to do their reading and say ‘well done’, also discuss the book.”

The school spent a lot of time on oral language skills, but if pupils didn’t have a good foundation, it was difficult for them to keep up with their peers, McLean said.

“If they’ve got poor oral language skills, they’re also going to struggle with reading and writing. Some do catch up but others will always lag behind.”

Parata expects advice by the end of the year on how the transition between pre-school and school can be strengthened, and what can be done in early childhood to ensure children develop resiliency.

Education Minister Hekia Parata in her Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Education Minister Hekia Parata in her Beehive office. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Education Minister said she would need to wait for the findings of the work to say what was causing the apparent decline in the spoken-language abilities of new entrants.

“It’s going to be a mix of stuff like screen time, less reading between adults and kids.”

Examples of what children should be able to do upon starting school provided by the Ministry of Education include asking questions about a picture, following directions in a group setting and holding a conversation.

The issue of pupils’ speaking ability was flagged in a 2014 report by Benjamin Riley, reported on at the time by the Herald.

Riley, who is from the United States, spent seven months with the ministry and visiting schools as an Axford Fellow.

He was told by half a dozen primary schools of a marked decline in spoken-language ability. The issue affected New Zealand-born children, not just those with English as a second language.

The issue has been flagged in an “update” of the special education system focussed on high-level changes.

It proposes spending more money on preschoolers to try and help them as early as possible, with ministry officials expecting this will eventually reduce the cost of providing learning support at school.

Initial work will include looking at how help is provided for speech disorders like oral language delay, to work out how things can be improved if help is provided earlier.

Try to talk with, not at, your children. Photo / 123RF

Try to talk with, not at, your children. Photo / 123RF

Parata said another piece of work currently underway was looking at how the early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki, could be better aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, which covers schools.

And officials are keen to make sure teachers’ professional development helped smooth the transition between pre-school and school.

Labour’s education spokesman Chris Hipkins said almost every school would report the problem of worsening oracy amongst new entrants.

“It’s difficult to draw generalisations about the backgrounds of those kids. Socio-economics plays a bit of a role. But having two full-time working parents can play a role in that. Certainly family dysfunction is one of the big drivers.”

Labour has warned that early intervention should not come at the cost of reducing support for school-age children with special needs.

Hipkins said the oral-language issue highlighted the danger in the Government’s move to enable students to enrol with online learning providers, instead of the local school.

“Person to person interaction is one of the really significant developmental things that happens to kids when they start school or early childhood education . . .they are not going to get that necessarily sitting at home in front of a computer.”

Future orators

• Help your child with simple activities and, in doing so, have lots of conversational exchanges.
• Tell children words and expressions but also make sure they are able to frequently try out new language.
• Read aloud to your children and give them time to think over what they have heard. Ask lots of closed questions (with one-word answers) and open questions (those with many different answers).
• Try to talk with, not at, your children.
• Encourage them to retell their favourite stories from books or their own experience. 

The battle for education

TodayWhat the overhaul of the education system means for you.
Tomorrow: Who is Education Minister Hekia Parata and what is motivating a raft of changes to New Zealand’s schooling system.

NZ Herald


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Family of six to spend a year on a bus, filming a child abuse documentary

'We're committed to doing it and we'll find a way to fund it,' says Chris Lane, back right. He's pictured with wife ...


‘We’re committed to doing it and we’ll find a way to fund it,’ says Chris Lane, back right. He’s pictured with wife Erinna and kids, from left, Theodore, 4, Lachie, 6, Joshua, 8, and Noah, 8.

Erinna and Chris Lane, of Te Awamutu, plan to pack up their life and take their family on a documentary-making mission.

The pair run Big Kid Productions and are taking their skills to the road to show what ordinary Kiwis can do to prevent child abuse.

“What we can do is we can make a film. So that’s what we’re going to try to do… It’s just about getting people to actually do something,” Chris said.

“Actual tangible change rather than clicking outrage on Facebook, which doesn’t actually change anything.”

Their project, which starts in October,  has been dubbed Stop The Bus and the aim is to produce a 90-minute film, with ongoing updates for social media.

Their four boys - Joshua, Noah, Lachie and Theodore – are reportedly super keen on the adventure.

“We’re just everyday, ordinary, ‘normal’ New Zealanders and we’re going to put our family on a bus for a year,” Erinna said.?

They’ll be looking for people who are making their communities stronger and already have a list of suggestions.

A bus will be the Lanes’ home for the time on the road but they’re still working on getting one.

They’ve spent about six months on research, including working with Child Matters, and have been visited by MPs.

“We’re committed to doing it and we’ll find a way to fund it,” Chris said.

Erinna and Chris started Big Kid Productions off with mostly wedding work, although they more recently made music videos for Avalanche City.

They’ve wanted to get into some film and documentary work for themselves for a while so Stop The Bus is that project.

“It’s quite a big deal and we don’t know how much money we will have to live or anything at the moment,” Erinna said.

“But we really believe in it so we’re going to do it regardless.”

Child abuse isn’t a positive topic but the Lanes want to make a documentary that will empower people to do something.

?”A lot of the documentaries that are out there are quite shocking and focus on the negative stuff,” Erinna said.

People featured in the film may not necessarily be dealing directly with child abuse, but could be working with at risk kids or helping a sports club create young leaders.

Chris is in charge of filming and editing, and hopes he’ll find space to work on their bus.

He describes Erinna as the “critical eye” and manager, but she’ll also be busy home schooling the boys.

Her vision for the documentary was to have people all across New Zealand linking arms to take ownership of the child abuse issue – a gesture too big to ignore.

So, in each place they visit, they’ll give people the chance to link up in front of some iconic local scenery.

Two other major aims of their documentary are to show child abuse exists across the board, not just in some sectors of society, and to give people ideas about what they can do to prevent it.

Outrage alone isn’t going to do it, Chris said.

“Everyone got enraged [about the deaths of the Kahui twins] and now we’ve got Moko 10 years later and everyone’s enraged.”?

The Lanes have been working with Child Matters, who will be their subject matter experts.

They are also supported by law firm Tompkins Wake and are hoping to set Stop The Bus up as a charitable organisation.

To support the project, visit

 - Stuff -–to-spend-a-year-on-a-bus-filming-a-child-abuse-documentary


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New doco says NZ education system is ‘grossly unfair’

Documentary maker Bryan Bruce says the government could do better for our children.

Bryan Bruce is not afraid to ask the big questions whether he is looking at child poverty or the growing divide between rich and poor. The Scottish-born Kiwi filmmaker, who was responsible for the documentaries Mind The Gapand Inside Child Poverty, is now putting New Zealand’s education system under the microscope.

In his documentary, World Class? Inside NZ Education: A Special Report, Bryan, a former teacher, looks at what he believes are some fundamental problems in schools.

He is critical of the reforms, known as Tomorrow’s Schools, which started in the 1980s in which schools became self-managing.

 ”So what happened in 1987 is the politicians got involved and thought ‘We know better than the teachers. We’re going to get involved and every school will manage itself and we’ll have these boards.’

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“What happened is that schools in rich areas did really well because they had accountants and lawyers on their boards and schools in poor areas didn’t do well because they didn’t have the capacity to pull in money and all of that. What we’ve really ended up with is an apartheid system of education. Our system of education is grossly unfair.

“Every child who enters the public system of education should have the same right not just to enter it but to actually succeed in it and that’s not the case.

“If education was a reality game show I’d be giving out roses to the teachers and voting treasury off the island. I’d be telling the ministry that if they don’t help teachers more, they’ll be next to go.”

For his documentary Bryan travels to New York, China and Finland to compare their education systems with New Zealand’s. He also shines the spotlight on South Auckland’s Manurewa Intermediate, a decile one school he says is “one of the best schools in the country”.

“It’s run by an incredible principal called Iain Taylor. They have a discovery approach where you will find what the child is interested in and then you will teach from that position. So if a kid likes motorbikes you start there. They read about motorbikes. The idea is to develop a passion for learning.

“If you keep testing children on knowledge, you drive that passion for learning out of them.”

World Class? Inside NZ Education: A Special Report - TV3, May 24

 - TV Guide


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Class of their own: Home-schooling a ‘path of discovery’

Seven per cent of New Zealand’s school population are taught at home. Last year, 5558 children from nearly 3000 families were home-schooled.Education reporter Jody O’Callaghan meets a North Canterbury home-educating family.

Scargill mother Lennie Harrison has been home-schooling her four children for 27 years.

As 10-year-old James is head down studying, the smell of pancakes wafts from the griddle nearby.

Lennie Harrison, home schooling James, 10, and Jasmine,18.

John Kirk-Anderson

Lennie Harrison, home schooling James, 10, and Jasmine,18.

A floor to ceiling shelf packed with books covers one side of the living room, and two wooden desks are lined up along the window.

“Learning at its best is a lifestyle,” Lennie Harrison said.

Canterbury has the third largest home-school community of 764, after Auckland’s 1214, and Waikato’s 818. Home-school parents need approval and regular checks from the Ministry of Education, and must educate their children to the standard they would receive at a registered school.

Harrison said home-schooling mothers often joked they did not get holidays, using every opportunity for learning as a family.

“Take the child by the hand and walk the educational path with them. It’s a path of discovery.”

Harrison designed her own curriculum to suit each child, but it was much easier to gather resources now with the internet than 30 years ago.

“There’s just so much around you just can’t go short.”

“We already have a modern learning environment, we have our house, and outside the house, which is the rest of the world.”

If the family lacked equipment needed for a lesson, she cast the net among friends. If her skills did not extend to a certain subject, she could “swap children” with other home-schoolers needing her specific skills.

Many home-schooled their children through desperation – a child bullied, or their special needs not met in a normal school setting.

For her, “cockiness helps” in making the decision she could educate her children better than mainstream schooling.

“I think I’m made to swim against the tide.”

Christianity played a part too.

She was often asked, ’What about socialisation?’ and ‘What about qualifications?”

They frequently met with about 10 home-educating families in North Canterbury – about 50 children.

At 14, the Harrison children should be able to plan out their day, and start doing voluntary community work to build up their curriculum vitae.

Daughter Jasmine volunteered at a school and a rest home, both for six months.

By 16 they should be full-time – either studying, working, or part-time in each.

Now at 18, “life costs” for Jasmine.

“There’s no more mucking around,” she said.

Jasmine completed level 2 when she was 16, and was now doing NCEA level 3 in classics via correspondence, while doing legal papers through Open Polytechnic. She was also still volunteering.

The ministry paid Harrison $740 to teach a child annually. When their home schooling ended, her children paid a bit of rent and food money, course costs, and car or hobby costs.

Harrison tried being the anxious mother with son Jake, now 32, “waving flags and whistles”, using rewards and punishments, “but you can’t work against a personality”. He needed more space.

He eventually found his feet in electrical engineering, gaining a degree at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) after completing an electrician apprenticeship.

Going to polytechnic at 21 was the first time he stepped foot in a classroom.

“I didn’t feel like I was handicapped or anything.”

His two children would also be home-schooled.

For daughter Sargia, now 28, joining the workforce as a librarian in Wellington was a “really smooth transition”.

“It was mostly a breeze. I think [home-schooling] really allowed me to discover who I was without outside pressure.”

 - Stuff


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Marlborough parents feel home schooling suits their children

Marlborough mother says she has nothing against traditional schooling, but at home her children are free to learn “what they want, when they want”.

Niki Boon said her children learned primarily through books and observing the world, and her son Kurt would decide whether he wanted to go to high school.

Boon had home schooled all four of her children, aged between 6 and 12-years-old.

Boon and husband Rob Simcic decided home schooling suited their children better, she said.

“We just preferred our kids at home.”

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They had a lot of freedom in how they structured their children’s day, Boon said.

“They have to learn ‘as much and as often’ as they would at school, but it’s really vague.”

The number of home schooled children in Marlborough climbed to 62 last year.

Fifty children were educated at home in 2014, although in previous years the numbers had reached 100.

The number of children enrolled in schools in Marlborough last year was more than 6600.

Boon knew of some home schooling parents who kept to a rigid timetable, but she did not dictate what her children had to learn and when.

The children had plenty of opportunities to socialise, sometimes with workers from all over the world who stayed on their Spring Creek property, Boon said.

To home school their children, parents had to apply for a certificate of exemption from the Ministry of Education.

Parents had to provide information to the ministry including a statement of their philosophy, what subjects they intended to teach, and a description of intended environmental, social and community contact.

Children who were home schooled could take NCEA exams through the Correspondence School or through a “link school”.

Twice a year parents had to make a declaration to the Ministry of Education that the home schooling was continuing. Students were allowed to “trial” a school for up to 10 weeks, without losing their home schooling status.

Fellow home schooling mother Veronika Merkle, originally from Germany, made the decision to home school her son Corbinian, 6, because she wanted him to grow up bilingual.

She also felt he was too young to be separated from the family.

While she hoped to home school him all the way through primary school, she would have to wait and see whether it suited him, she said.

“As they grow up they might have different needs, that we might struggle to meet,” she said.

Marlborough Boys’ College principal Wayne Hegarty said occasionally students who were home schooled would come to Marlborough Boys’ to do their NCEA exams.

“Some will do very well. It just varies, really.”

Two years ago, William Irwin-Harris, who was home schooled for most of his life, became proxime accessit to the dux.

“He was a very bright boy, and it was nice to see him grow in confidence,” Hegarty said.

William’s mother Jacqui Harris said he had just won a prize for mathematics at Victoria University.

Parent Smyth Brydon said her son attended Grovetown School, but her 8-year-old daughter Brooke was educated at home. She tried school for two years but decided she wanted to try learning at home.

“She’s a real free spirit, and I’m a real fan of following the children’s lead,” Brydon said.

“She [experienced school], and it was good, but at the end of the day she said ‘no, I still want to give this a go’,” Brydon said.

Brooke’s preschool teacher first suggested home schooling after Brydon said she was concerned Brooke was not ready for school. Initially Brydon was reluctant, but after she did some research into it she thought it would suit the family.

Brydon said she hoped Brooke would choose to keep learning at home, as she did not want her to feel the pressure to fit in as she got older.

Brooke was very self-motivated, Brydon said.

“If she wants to become a doctor, she’ll become a doctor. If she wants to become an artist, she’ll become an artist.”

Each year about 5500 New Zealand children were home schooled.

 - The Marlborough Express

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