RWNZ recently sent out a survey on Boarding Bursaries, asking members a series of questions, to enable us to provide evidence-based data around the key issues on how the costs of boarding students and the associated issues impact on our rural families.
The information provided formed the report to the Ministry of Education in response to the review on access and the multiple barriers allowances offered by the Ministry of Education’s Boarding Allowance Scheme.
Eighty survey responses were received, and while each had its own individual comments, there were some common themes.
Question one asked whether or not people believed the value of access barriers and multiple allowance barriers is sufficient. A minority believe the value is sufficient because it is only an assistance, however the majority believe it falls short of the ever-increasing costs of boarding school and fails to take into account certain family circumstances, such as a one parent household, multiple children or a low income household.
As a result of not attending boarding school, children can face disadvantages such as a limited range of extra-curricular activities, or attending a local school which “may not provide a very high standard of education, holding bright children back from achieving their potential.”
Respondents were also asked whether they believed there were families who are eligible to receive allowances but do not apply. Surprisingly, a majority said that they do know of families in this position. Some parents have had issues in the past, and find the process stressful. Other parents have simply not been aware the allowances exist, and it was suggested schools should have an obligation to advise families about allowances. Some stated the opposite, that in their communities almost everyone applies because the majority are low to middle income earners, and need all financial assistance available.
When asked whether they believed the eligibility criteria are set at the right level, most people disagreed. Those who disagreed believe the distance criteria are too high, and fail to take into account rural areas with rough terrain and narrow windy roads. It can be difficult for families living in isolated areas traveling on gravel roads that are slower to negotiate. However, those who agreed also mentioned there probably needs to be some flexibility for unique cases.
There are many consequences for families who cannot board due to financial reasons. For the child, common consequences include isolation, lack of social contact, lack of friendships and the ability to build new relationships, and a lack of participation in cultural, sporting and other activities. The effect on the whole family includes the cost and stress of relocating, and in some cases dividing the family.
From the survey, the proposed solution is that all children should be given the option to go to boarding school if they wish. They should also have the ability to return back home after their studies as a fulfilled citizen, passionate and influential, with a desire to give back to the community they originated from. The access barriers facing families today that wish to send a child to boarding school are perceived to be a lot harder than in previous years.
Great Barrier Island
There were a large number of responses from Great Barrier Island where the issue of boarding allowances is a “hot topic”, and because they are a small and close-knit community, families regularly engage in open and frank discussions. While correspondence is an option, there were many issues, and are still, with the Correspondence School: Te Kura. Also, correspondence does not fit with every child’s learning needs.
These children take correspondence due to lack of money, and it is felt on the island that they are not receiving a proper education. To make matters worse, this increases their chance of gravitating towards and becoming involved in social activities with negative outcomes.
Great Barrier Island believe that the allowances should also be area-based, and not subject to distance criteria.