Rural Northland schools struggling to fill classrooms

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Some rural schools in Northland are feeling the brunt of the housing crisis and struggling to fill classrooms with students and teachers. Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association President Pat Newman claims it's due to deliberate government policies over the years to decimate education in rural areas.

"When I started rural school education was the best in the world, it was the best in New Zealand. We then went into stupid market forces where the rents went from a minimal token rent to suddenly three or four hundred dollars a week to live in the middle of nowhere, " says Newman.

He claims previous Governments knew the risks of making rural housing contestable and the ramifications for rural communities are now being felt. 

"We're very isolated up here, the majority of our schools are small schools, we're in very low socio-economic areas, farming has taken a hit, so we're not replacing the kids with other workers, we're part of the rural recession since Roger Douglas's time, we have less and less children in schools."

Newman says there are no incentives for being a teacher or principal in rural areas of the North and little support for those who enter those roles once they're in there.

"It's getting harder to get good staff to go into schools that might be closing or getting smaller and that's been a deliberate policy I believe over the years to decimate education in rural areas."

He is calling on the new Government to look at a housing incentive to draw teachers to rural areas.

"If you're a teacher in Auckland and can't afford a house at the moment what a great incentive to go to a cheap house in rural area and save some money."

Newman says logically there are going to be some school closures around NZ but is hopeful that rural education will survive and thrive once again.