All the way back in March the Nats (along with ACT and Peter Dunne) voted down the “feed the kids” bill. Better to spend money on a flag change that no one wants, rather than feeding hungry kids, apparently. Part of Key’s argument against the bill was that it wasn’t needed – kids at school without food were “the odd one or two”. Later in Parliament he made a similar argument:
Prime Minister John Key got Education Minister Hekia Parata to cold-call three low-decile schools at random today and find out how many children had come to school without lunch.
He revealed during question time that he had done so, during questions from Greens co-leader Metiria Turei on providing lunches in schools and ahead of votes on two private members’ bills tonight.
“These are the facts,” Mr Key said. “At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou School, Ruatoria, Decile one, how many children came to school without lunch – answer – zero.” At Sylvia Park School, decile two – there one or two kids, and at Manurewa Intermediate, a decile one school with a roll of 711, perhaps 12 had gone to school with no lunch, he said.
To try and make policy decisions based on hurried calls to three schools (selected how?) was always nonsense, especially given the evidence on the prevalence of the problem turned up by Campbell Live’s excellent work on school lunches. Credit to the New Zealand Principals’ Federation, who organised a questionnaire to get some real data on the problem. Here’s a summary reported on Saturday in The Herald (nice work from Kirsty Johnston):
Full tummies another task for teachers?
Schools are digging into their teaching budgets – in some cases relying on donations from principals and teachers – to feed children who turn up hungry. A nationwide survey of lower decile school principals has indicated how many kids don’t have breakfast or lunch, with those in some areas reporting up to 80 per cent of students arriving without food each week.
Among the respondents were 70 decile four and five schools, suggesting child poverty is creeping into middle income families. Most of the 270 schools who responded to the New Zealand Principals’ Federation questionnaire said they fed some of their students, with more than half feeding at least 20 per cent each week. Principals reported using up to $5000 of their operations grants on feeding children each term and many also paid teacher aides to co-ordinate available programmes or help at breakfast and lunchtime.
• Sent to all Decile 1 to 5 schools, approx 1200 in total; 270 schools replied.
• Eighty-five schools – one third of the total – said up to 20 per cent of their kids came to school without having eaten breakfast, or without lunch, each week. Another 45 schools put this figure at 30 per cent.
• 88 per cent of schools, when asked if they used school resources to feed children, said yes.
• 73 per cent said they used school money to feed kids, 51 said management time and 63 said teacher time.
What principals said
• “Teachers donate meat, bread, other sandwich fillings so students have lunch.”
• “We grow our own food and give the students three hot meals per week with produce from the garden.”
• “We don’t identify individuals, we just provide a lunch for everyone once or twice a week and top up any children as required.”
• “As the principal for the first year of setting up our Breakfast Club I paid for it myself.”
• “Our school has the approach of working with parents to ensure they meet their obligations to provide for their children.”
• “We want children to feel free to get breakfast without feeling any shame from seeing staff.”
• “Much of it is done quietly by teachers in their own rooms, from their own pockets.”
So there are the facts. John Key is wrong, the problem of hungry kids at school is not “the odd one or two”. In many schools it is 20 – 30%, in some cases up to 80%, of the total roll. It’s a shocking level of hunger in schools. The feed the kids bill should never have been voted down, shame on those that did so.