PM Hipkins must issue ‘please explain’ to former Minister of Education Hipkins
New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins recently announced a $74million package that would bring back “truancy officers” with 82 new roles established in a bid to curtail the dismal school attendance statistics that are now widely acknowledged to be at crisis point. While this pragmatic measure will be welcomed by many, it is fair for Kiwis to question what took so long.
The media has been reporting on the crisis since kids returned to school after Covid-19 lockdowns and opposition parties have been banging the drum too. At the end of last year, Newshub reported that just 40 per cent of Kiwi kids are attending school regularly and that there is a correlation between poor attendance and regions with high rates of ram raids.
The Prime Minister might well want to enquire with the man who was Minister of Education until very recently. He need only look in the mirror.
[Chris Hipkins is familiar with this meme]
The man in the mirror would advise the Prime Minister that in fact he did dedicate considerable resources to the truancy crisis in 2022; about $1million in fact. It was spent on a campaign called All In For Learning and was created by the agency Stanley St. You may recognise the name as Kris Faafoi’s new PR gig sits under the Stanley St umbrella. As does the agency Tatou run by Minister Peeni Henare’s partner.
The Ministry of Education approached us with a challenge. Over the last few years in Aotearoa, attendance and participation at school had been in steady decline. With COVID further contributing towards this downwards trend, by August 2022 almost half of our tamariki were not regularly attending school.
The value of in person learning had taken a hit with parents across New Zealand who had forgotten that the value of physically being at school extended far beyond the books for their children. Kids were missing out on all the other moments that play such a critical role in shaping their futures.
Of the “around $1 million of baseline funding”, the Parnell ad agency was paid $774,000 (inclusive of media costs of $480,000) by the Ministry of Education. Also included in the more than three-quarters of a million dollar fee was $98,500 for focus groups, $70,000 for impact assessment reports, and $56,600 for baseline research. The campaign was in market for just over a month from 23 Aug – 30 Sept 2022.
Keen to find out how this expensive campaign improved truancy rates in New Zealand, the Taxpayers’ Union sent an Official Information Act request to the ministry asking for the goals, KPIs, briefing documents, and results of the campaign. The response we received had jaws hitting the floor.
The first shock came with the answer: “We did not provide Stanley St with any briefing documents”. No instructions were written down. No parameters set for a campaign worth $774,000 to the agency.
That was nothing compared to what we would learn next.
In our OIA, we asked for: An explanation or summary as to how this campaign addresses the problem of declining attendance in New Zealand and in what ways this campaign improved attendance.
And we were told that for a million dollars, the campaign had no impact on attendance rates. The ministry informed us it “was not expected to have a direct, quantifiable, impact on attendance rates itself.”
Stanley St developed 167 creative assets to support a “multi-channel, multi-lingual approach, deployed across: 521 Television Spots, across 16 TV channels, 688 National Radio Spots, 43 Bus Backs, 3 In-School Full Video screens, 281 Posters in 7 key locations, and Digital Billboards & Adshels programmatically….”
All of this to “raise awareness and change perceptions about attendance and engagement as a national issue”.
The Ministry of Education says they sought to “make attendance a national priority by:
- helping parents, whanau, ākonga and communities understand the importance of regular attendance and engagement at school
- enabling one story to be consistently and repeatedly heard; and
- enhancing awareness of regular attendance as an issue at a regional and local level.”
Awareness. It was an Awareness Campaign. To make New Zealand aware of an issue that was already being called a crisis. Instead of dropping a million dollars on the truancy officers Prime Minister Hipkins has announced nearly six months later, Education Minister Hipkins oversaw a million dollars being spent to tell Kiwis that kids aren’t going to school as often as they should.
This was an exercise in spending money aimlessly and without regard for the taxpayers who earnt it and the inflationary environment Kiwis are dealing with currently. The Prime Minister needs to answer as to whether he was aware of the cost of the campaign and its wishy-washy objectives. Did it cross his desk in his capacity as Minister of Education? Did he consider it to be a million dollars well spent?
The truancy crisis is serious and Kiwi parents don’t begrudge public education spending that shows value for money, but this campaign is clearly gratuitous and has been developed with more focus on creating something trendy than doing something practical to address a problem.
The response to our information request can be found here.