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Effects of Covid-19 on students' learning in NZ will continue into 2021, report warns

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to be felt by students, with Auckland schools and learners in the lowest socio-economic areas likely to be the hardest hit, according to a new report.

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The Education Review Office’s Nicholas Pole says the impacts of Covid-19 on learners will continue into 2021. Source: Breakfast

A report released today by the Education Review Office, the Government’s education evaluation agency, reveals only a quarter of NCEA students said they were coping with their school work last year. Older students were less likely to report feeling positive about the school year than younger students. 

It also showed nearly one in five schools reported Covid-19 had resulted in lower-than-expected attendance. By term 3, nearly half of schools reported ongoing concerns about attendance. This was most prevalent in low-decile schools.

"Lockdown may have exacerbated existing inequities," the report reads.

The report said student anxiety also played a role in low attendance.

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There are indications the pandemic will continue to be felt this year, with fears some students won’t be able to catch up. Source: Breakfast

Nicholas Pole, ERO chief executive and chief review officer, said 80 per cent of low-decile schools told the agency they were concerned about student achievement.

Only a third of these schools indicated they were confident their students would catch up. Some teachers estimated that for students who plateaued or regressed in their learning, they had lost about a term's worth of learning.

But, the full extent of the impacts of learning from home won't be clear until students are tested this year.

“It is important to recognise that students and children starting in services, schools and classrooms this year will not be where they would have been in previous years,” Pole said.

“Both their learning and wellbeing has been impacted. It is important that teachers understand where their learners are at, have good plans in place to support them and keep engaging with whānau.”

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Aorere College head girl Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’i says many students have had to leave school to support their families. Source: 1 NEWS

Pole urged schools to put in place targeted support systems for students who had fallen behind. 

He said parents also need to keep in mind the transition to the new school year because of the pandemic may be “particularly challenging”.

Auckland students were also impacted by the additional Level 3 lockdown on the city, the report found. Teachers and principals in Auckland were also less likely to have felt optimistic about their students' learning. 

One high point of the lockdowns, however, was the use of technology to help with learning. Pole said that came down to the "great teaching" behind the technology. 

But strategies need to be in place to make sure the needs of those who don’t have access to technology are met, he said.

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The report found most schools also put in place strategies to try and improve student wellbeing after lockdown, including increasing funding for counselling services, delivering coaching programmes and reassuring anxious students.

Most whānau also reported feeling they received enough support from their children’s schools during lockdown.

“We also saw schools and services go above and beyond to support their communities in 2020 and there was a big increase in whānau engagement in learning and strengthened relationships between teachers and whānau," Pole said.

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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

He said the research also found the kura kaupapa (Māori medium schools) sector “successfully joined forces with their communities” to respond to the pandemic effectively, “and went above and beyond for learners”.

But, for other Māori learners, the report found they were more likely to have faced “significant challenges during and after lockdown” because “they are more likely to be enrolled in low-decile schools, who reported facing more challenges than mid or high-decile schools during the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

In the event of another lockdown, support needed to be focused on low-decile schools, Pole said.

"That's not just schools on their own. That's an entire system us all pulling together around those communities."

'The disparity that the report talks about is real' — Manurewa principal unsurprised by findings

Rowandale School principal Karl Vasau told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning he wasn't surprised about the report's findings. 

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Rowandale School’s Karl Vasau says the review confirms what his Manurewa community already knew. Source: Breakfast

“The disparity that the report talks about is real and hasn’t gone anywhere," Vasau said.

But the difference now was that it isn't in "invisible ink".

"It’s not people talking about it. It’s actually in a report. So I look forward to whoever is going to take the report and put some actions in place."

Data for the report was collected through interviews, surveys and focus groups.