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Children's Commissioner says too many Kiwi kids leaving school to help whānau with Covid-19 financial burdens

A concerning 10 per cent of students at New Zealand’s largest decile one school didn’t return to the classroom after lockdown, half of whom had to take on jobs to support their families.

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Andrew Becroft said brave children are sacrificing their education to either get jobs or look after younger family members. Source: Breakfast

That's the figures coming from the Children's Commissioner and a South Auckland High School principal as part of the stories they revealed this morning of Kiwi students leaving school in recent months to help their families with financial burdens brought on by Covid-19.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft joined TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning to discuss how the pandemic was forcing some of New Zealand's younger population to make brave decisions.

"Doesn't it speak so well of our young people that they would be willing to put family first?" Mr Becroft asked.

"But in the end, it's short-term. It robs them of an education and a future."

Mr Becroft said the focus with these stories, which he added are happening all around the country, should not be on what jobs young Kiwis are getting but rather that they should have a choice to finish their education regardless of their families' financial situation.

"School students are both leaving to get work for their family or they're staying home to care for younger children so that parents can get new jobs which take place during school hours," he said.

"I'm hugely encouraged that young people would do that but we want the best future possible - we're better than this in New Zealand.

"We want better for our children and we don't want those who are doing it really tough doing it even tougher."

'Beautiful family values and leadership'

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Manurewa High School principal Peter Jones says students are taking jobs to try make ends meet for their family. Source: Breakfast

Mr Becroft's comments came after Breakfast had spoken to Manurewa High School principal Peter Jones earlier this morning, who said roughly 200 of his students have left to join the work force.

"That's been the harsh reality of the first lockdown," Mr Jones said.

"Particularly when the supermarkets and couriers were hiring, a lot of our senior students took those opportunities because they've got these beautiful family values and leadership where they want to support and they want to help out their families.

"It's tough, but they've made those hard decision to support their whānau."

Mr Jones said they've managed to bring some students back to the school but others are still working.

"I think when you're in situations where you've got to make really tough calls where it's your education or going out and earning some money because that money is the difference between putting food on the table or heating the house, they're really tough calls but that's the reality for some of our whānau."

Mr Jones added the school and its students are facing other issues due to Covid-19 and the lockdown as well.

"We've seen an increase in transience due to lockdown. We've seen some families and kids getting disengaged and not being able to reengage."

What can be done

Both Mr Becroft and Mr Jones said they hope more is done by the Government to get students who have left school back in the classroom, with the Children's Commissioner proposing a subsidy to help make it happen.

"I hope, in our response to Covid, we're really prioritising children," Mr Becroft said.

"It would be great if the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development could get together and maybe look at a school-family retention subsidy.

"There's some creative things we ought to be able to do."

It was a concept Mr Jones proposed as well.

"Could we not have a wage subsidy to keep young people in education and invest in their future?"

Mr Jones added more needed to be done recognising students as more than test marks as well currently.

"How do we define success in New Zealand? It may not always be a Level 1, a Level 2 or a Level 3 qualification.

"It's all about those [family values] and that work ethic and that values set that wants to support and help others. 

"They're really special qualities and we need to value them more, and we need to be more flexible about how we can work with those young people."