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“Four siblings sharing one uniform”, new survey shines light

Some children in poverty are missing school because they are sharing one uniform, a pair of shoes or a bus pass with their siblings, a new KidsCan survey has revealed.

The Auckland-based charitable trust said 210  low decile schools shared heartbreaking stories about the strain families are under as children head back to school.

“We had [four] boys attending on different days of the week and the excuse was illness… turned out they only had one school shirt so they picked their favourite day of classes to come. Mum was too embarrassed to tell anyone,” a teacher wrote.

Another wrote: “Uniform shared between 4 siblings. One child attended a day. Tight on the oldest and loose on the youngest. Stationery non existent.”

The decile 1-4 schools also responded to questions about back to school costs. Teachers said students were often absent on the all-important first day or week of school because they didn’t have the supplies they needed, meaning they missed out on learning from the very beginning.

“Many parents do keep their children home until they can afford some books, uniforms also hold parents back,” one teacher wrote. “Some have to choose between feeding their children or stationery, and stationery will always lose,” another reported.

Schools detailed an increasing number of measures they are taking to support struggling families, including changing to cheaper uniforms with no logo, not charging fees, reducing stationery costs, and setting up payment plans. Some went above and beyond, picking up children whose families couldn’t afford petrol, with teachers paying for stationery themselves.

KidsCan is one of the charities around the country that try to supply disadvantaged Kiwi kids with essentials like breakfast, snacks, hot meals, raincoats, shoes and sanitary items. This term, it said it has brought 47 schools off its waiting list, bringing the total number that it supports to a record 787 nationwide.

“We’re pleased that more children will be able to focus on learning, without sitting in class feeling cold and hungry, or not coming to school at all,” KidsCan’s CEO and founder Julie Chapman says. “But this is not a milestone to be celebrated. It just highlights the level of hardship in New Zealand right now, and the enormous impact it’s having on our kids.”

Teachers wrote of children feeling embarrassed and anxious without the essentials: “We’ve had children with sore stomachs, anxiety, crying etc because they do not have the right uniform, stationery, shoes or money to go on camps.”

Nearly every school surveyed had seen a boost in attendance thanks to charitable support.

The government has announced a new equity-based overhaul of school funding that will replace our current decile system. The goal is to provide more funding to schools with more disadvantaged students, rather than set funding amounts for decile numbers that don’t always reflect community needs.

It sounds promising, although critics have warned the changeover could mean some low-decile schools lose funding. The new system will likely ease into effect next year. 

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