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Helping Southland Schools


A DairyNZ sponsored programme is responding to concern that children of frequently-moving farming families are falling behind at school.


  • Southland principals were concerned that children of frequently-moving dairy farming families were falling behind.
  • A DairyNZ-funded programme is establishing a database to help rural school teachers better prepare for new pupils.
  • DairyNZ-funded work assessed how big a problem transition is for children.


The programme involves building a database to keep track of pupils on the move in Southland.

Otautau School principal Ben Witheford says that as parents climb the dairy farming ladder and move to new jobs, there’s a danger their children’s schooling will suffer.

“There are too many kids that are four or five years into their primary education and have moved eight to ten times, effectively an average of once every six months, which is far too frequently,” says Ben.

“The system can leave them behind, not through anyone’s fault, it’s just that things don’t move necessarily as quickly

as people move. As a result, there’s usually gaps which start appearing in kids’ learning and in their social development as well.”

The programme to address these issues began early last year when Ben attended a conference in Wellington, where he met Kylie Power and Emma Bettle of Ministry of Done, who develop educational resources for DairyNZ.

“They’d been hearing similar things, particularly in Canterbury and Southland.”

A meeting between rural principals and DairyNZ saw an online database developed, to stop children falling between the educational cracks.

 Small  rural  schools

“You know, it’s amazing how it can fall off some parents’ lists that they are moving between farms and need to let the local school know they’re coming,” says Kylie.

“When you’re a small country school – we’ve got schools that have 60 students – and you’ve lost 20 students on a Friday and gained 18 on a Monday, it’s a big thing.”

The database will help these issues.

“If I know of a child who’s moving from my school to a school over in eastern Southland I can go onto the database and in

a relatively short time fill in some quite pertinent information about that child. The moment I click submit, that information goes straight through email to that principal,” says Ben, whose school has also used the Rosie's Education material.

Research  assesses  issues

As well as helping build the database, DairyNZ funded preliminary work to assess how big a problem transition is for dairy farming children.

Educational psychologist and Southland dairy farmer Dr Pauline Stewart says very little research has been done on the effects of transition on rural children.  However, it seems likely the effects are not as serious as some believe.

“From some research that has been done, there isn’t a huge impact academically. That work was done for children in transition and not specifically for children within the dairy industry, but I would suspect that it’s probably very similar.”

Pauline says the academic effects are just part of the picture and equally important are the social implications of frequent school changes.“Within one family, from my clinical experience, there can be some children who are affected and some who aren’t,” says Pauline.

“One of the difficulties is transitions usually take place during the middle of the year. Friendships have often been formed and it’s quite difficult for young people to change schools at that time, but some cope exceptionally well.”

 More  research  needed

Pauline believes more research should be done to get a better understanding of how children on the move are affected.

While DairyNZ funded the preliminary work in Southland, she would like to see more work done on young people and dairy farming.

In Ben’s experience, some children do have trouble adapting to constant change. He says a former student had moved often, as her mother changed dairy farming jobs.

“This girl was quite a loner and didn’t really have any friends, so mum decided to commit to staying in the area and told her daughter so,” says Ben.

“Literally it was an overnight experience. Her demeanour changed, she brightened up, she started making friends and because of that choice, she stayed at this school until she left to go to high school, which I personally think was the best thing that could have happened for her.”

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