Jason Heale

A COVID-19 hospital pass for our schools

By Jason Heale November 16, 2021

‘Hospital Pass’ is a colourful sporting term referring to a pass (usually in Rugby), where the person who receives the ball will inevitably and unavoidably be smashed, likely putting them in hospital. With the reopening of all schools from Wednesday, many insiders believe the Government has thrown local schools a nationwide hospital pass. 

Of course children (and more than a few parents) have been looking forward to the reopening of schools, not only so that online classes can be a thing of the past, but also so that the social and institutional aspects, that kids in lockdown have missed out on for so long, can return. 

On the day of the announcements, the Auckland Primary Principal’s Association still didn’t know whether or not they would be reopening.

Only a couple of weeks ago Maxim researcher ’Alapasita Teu called for more collaboration between the Government and schools around reopening, and a path out of lockdown. It seems, however, that rather than collaboration, the whole operation has been passed on for schools to figure out for themselves. And yet, on the day of the announcements, the Auckland Primary Principal’s Association still didn’t know whether or not they would be reopening. The Government gave principals just one week to prepare for the return of students. This is likely why an email from my children’s school was only able to give the most basic of information: the return would be part time, and kids in Year 4 and up would have to be masked.

I’d mark this a ‘D’ for dereliction of duty. The grade gets worse when we note that the Associate Minister of Education directly contradicted the experience of a principle so frustrated with the lack of support offered that he called the process ‘a dog’s breakfast.’

We need to be looking for a meeting in the middle, a halfway point between centralisation and localisation.

One positive to come out of this is the reminder that local schools know their own communities best. The Ministry has said as much with Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti saying that, ‘schools do know what will work for their young people.’ Thank goodness they are deferring to local knowledge and expertise here. But it cannot be an all or nothing. One of the most lamentable aspects of this pandemic is that it has set people up against each other, dividing our communities. 

We need to be looking for a meeting in the middle, a halfway point between centralisation and localisation. The Government should never mandate without consultation, or a heads-up, but they also cannot throw the whole job to the schools. It’s good that they’re aware of the power of local knowledge—they need to support it more. This will require humility on both sides.

It’s important to get this right. Local communities, local schools, are the strength of New Zealand. The last thing we need is for them, and the next generation—the kids in classroom—to feel they’re being crunched, abandoned, and set up for the a trip to the hospital all at the same time.

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Jason Heale

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