Schools push for pilot scheme for international students

Schools are pushing for a pilot scheme to bring back foreign students to stave off big cuts to teaching and teacher aides next year.

A survey has found that 147 schools with overseas students would have to lay off 300 teachers, 193 teacher aides and 191 other staff if the border remains closed to students next year.

The Secondary Principals’ Association (Spanz) and the Schools International Education Business Association (Sieba), which did the survey, are pushing for a pilot managed isolation scheme for potentially 150 students and their family members to show that students could be brought back safely.

Sieba chairman Patrick Walsh of John Paul College in Rotorua said all parties recognised that it was “a matter of urgency”.

“Talks on that are progressing, and both parties – the Ministry of Education and Sieba and Spanz – have come to it with an open mind, so we are hoping to progress it quickly,” he said.

Auckland Secondary Schools Principals Association president Steve Hargreaves said the pilot could provide for about 150 students, each with a parent, who would pay for their stay in quarantine hotels.

“Because they are minors, they have to come with a guardian,” he said. “The proposal would include a condition that each student has to come with a parent.”

They would probably come from a country that has Covid-19 under control, such as China.

“China does present some benefit in that it’s a big market and they have got a good handle on the Covid situation,” he said.

The survey, which had a response rate of 38 per cent of Sieba’s 385 schools, found that the biggest single area schools would cut if the border stayed closed next year would be learning support – almost 40 per cent of the schools said they would cut it.

More than 30 per cent said they would have to reduce the number of subjects offered, 28 per cent said they would have to expand class sizes, 28 per cent would cut field trips and other curriculum-related experiences and 18 per cent would cut extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs.

Walsh said it was ironic that learning support could be most affected – just at a time when the Government has required schools to create a learning support register of all students with special needs.

“Schools have identified for the first time very large cohorts of students with learning support needs. In fact it’s overwhelming,” he said. “It’s taken us all by surprise.”

John Paul College has identified about 220 of its 1200 students as needing learning support, but depends partly on foreign student income to fund teacher aides for them.

“We are trying to manage the budget and take money from elsewhere to support students with learning needs, but it’s a struggle,” Walsh said.

The survey found that 32 per cent of the schools expect to lose less than $100,000 if the border stays closed next year, but almost one in 10 expect to lose more than $1 million.

Some schools were concerned that other schools might take more out-of-zone domestic students to make up for fewer international students – causing a loss of students and revenue from neighbouring schools.

Hargreaves said Christchurch principals have signed an undertaking not to poach students from each other, but Auckland principals have not done so yet.

“We have had a discussion at Auckland principals’ executive, but it was about the possibility of it, it was not saying it was actually happening,” he said.

Walsh said two principals have also told him that NZ-based education agents have poached some overseas students from their schools to place them in other NZ schools, collecting a commission which they can no longer earn by bringing in new students.

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