Alternative education in crisis as more kids ‘disengage’ after earthquakes


Christchurch schools that help teenagers with complex behavioural and emotional problems are struggling for money as younger students require help post-earthquakes.

Cashmere High School is the managing school for the Christchurch Alternative Education Consortium. It receives $1.3 million a year from the Ministry of Education, which it spreads across six alternative education (AE) sites, teaching 180 students who face complex social and behavioural issues.

The ministry’s funding pays for just 120 students and fundraising helps meet the shortfall.
Christchurch alternative education manager Arthur Sutherland said since the February 2011 earthquake more 13-year-olds had required help as their families dealt with the disaster’s aftermath.

“Before the earthquakes it was rare for a year 9 student to come into AE,” he said.

Last year, thirteen year 9 pupils were referred to alternative education providers in Christchurch. This year, four year 9 students had already been referred, and Sutherland expected the figure would grow.

Sutherland said parents often did not realise how the earthquake had affected their families, yet shifting houses, and relationship breakdowns created ongoing change for students.

Te Kupenga o Aranui (TKA) is one of the smaller providers, and has eight students enrolled. Teachers had noticed a change in students since the earthquakes.

Managing director Della Paku said anxiety and other mental health conditions had become a “major problem”.

Community donations paid about 50 per cent of its operating costs. It received about $150,000 per year from the ministry, which was not enough to scrape even, Paku said.
TKA rents a building on Pages Rd. Its walls are painted lime green, and outside there is a basketball court. Students can use bread provided to make “toasties” for lunch, and Sanitarium has donated weet-bix.

Paku said students often arrived without food.

Student Lachlan, 14, has aspirations to become a photographer.

Dylan, 15, wants to become a builder. Both said their lives were “better off” as a result of taking part in the programme.

“I felt like it was a fresh start,” Lachlan said. “I definitely learn a lot more here. In the holidays I said I was sick of holidays and I wanted to be back here [at TKA].”

University of Canterbury senior lecturer in education Judy Bruce said the alternative education sector was in crisis.

She said high staff turnover, and a lack of adequate resourcing were two persistent issues that had troubled alternative education since its inception 21 years ago.

“Employment conditions are so bad, and the nature of young people is stressful,” she said.

“The Education Council will not recognise the work that they [teachers] are doing in alternative education as counting towards their teaching registration.”

That meant staff often started out as graduates, and left within two years of accepting work within the sector.

Ministry deputy secretary of regional operations Katrina Casey said it was undertaking policy work at a national level “to look at how we can improve outcomes for students who are at risk of disengaging, or who have already disengaged, from education”.

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