Correspondence school wants more funding to cope with surge in enrollment

Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu - the correspondence school - has seen a 40% increase in full-time enrollment since 2018,

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Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – the correspondence school – has seen a 40% increase in full-time enrollment since 2018,

The principal of New Zealand’s biggest school says it needs more funding as its enrollment numbers have soared in recent years.

Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu​ – the correspondence school – has seen a 40% increase in full-time enrollment since 2018, according to a recent ORE report. This year alone there has been an increase of over 4000 new students.

Chief Executive Mike Hollings said the recent $15.5 million budget increase for at-risk students only brings the school – which teaches more than 23,000 students a year – back to where it should be right now.

“What the ERO is saying is that we’re doing remarkably well given the low level of resources we’re getting. That’s what they recommended in the report is that we reconsider to our funding urgently.

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In 2021, Te Kura received $71 million in government funding and $4 million under the Covid-19 Enhanced Wellness Fund. It receives money for staff and the number of full-time students on its roster, but does not receive technology grants or infrastructure funding.

The school turns 100 this year – having at one time mainly served rural pupils isolated from mainstream schools or those living abroad.

But it has recently seen an increase in the number of “at-risk” students, Hollings said, including those who have dropped out of school, others with high and complex needs, autism, ADHD, disabilities behavior or mental health issues.

Te Kura chief executive Mike Hollings said the school needed more funding than a $15.5 million budget increase.

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Te Kura chief executive Mike Hollings said the school needed more funding than a $15.5 million budget increase.

Most of its 2022 return (2,514) concerned the non-enrolled, that is to say the dropouts.

This year’s budget gave the school $15.5 million to expand its “Big Picture” program. This will target pupils at risk – tailoring a specific program to help them stay in school.

“While we have this $15.5 million to deliver over four years, it only gets us to the point where we should be anyway, and that’s just for some specific students.”

James Prendergast is now a learning assistant at Knighton Normal School in Hamilton after being bullied at mainstream school and thriving at Te Kura.

Christel Yardley / Stuff

James Prendergast is now a learning assistant at Knighton Normal School in Hamilton after being bullied at mainstream school and thriving at Te Kura.

Hollings said the school was seeing “a lot of kids with depression and anxiety.”

“There is a lot of bullying in schools, and not just from students. Kids will tell you that teachers bully them…even though the vast majority of teachers aren’t bullies.

Former Te Kura student James Prendergast identified as transgender and bisexual in grade 9 at his Hamilton high school. From then on, he was severely bullied, he said.

He was taken into custody for wearing the wrong uniform according to the school – but the worst bullying came from other students.

He was pushed down the stairs, followed home and taunted with homophobic slurs.

James Prendergast says he wanted to give back as a teacher after Te Kura teachers helped him through a dark time.  He is pictured here with 5-year-old Henglong Huy.

Christel Yardley / Stuff

James Prendergast says he wanted to give back as a teacher after Te Kura teachers helped him through a dark time. He is pictured here with 5-year-old Henglong Huy.

“My anxiety crippled me at that time, I just couldn’t go to school. If I went, I would spend most of my time having panic attacks and panic attacks.

Prendergast heard about the correspondence school from an aunt and flourished while there. The teachers were patient, kind and encouraging, he said. They tried to find work that matched his interests, such as musical theater and animals.

He had no family support during his studies, and sometimes teachers were the only people in his life to check on him.

He has now completed all NCEA levels and entered college. He works as a teaching assistant at Knighton Normal School.

“Te Kura was a lifeline for me. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t go to school, because I was in a really dark place.

“I think it will help other people like me, it’s just a good place…the amount of effort the teachers put in. They can see the kids who want to be able to do it, but can’t. for the moment.”

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said: “I am confident that this increased funding for Te Kura, which applies to enrollments from July 2022, is the investment Te Kura needs to better s ‘engage with young people and focus support on priority learners’.

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