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Whilst several early childhood education centres were available in Taumarunui, many could not access it due to waiting lists:

"You've got to go on a two year wait list at the moment for your kids under four. One place only has a couple of days a week available. Once you've got your kids into kindy or early childhood it's fine. Then it's great. But it's just getting your kids into one. Mums can't return back to work because there's only one place just down the road here that will take under twos."
"Then they do put some pressure on the number of hours you put your kids in there. So if you only want to start off going back to work two days a week then they're like, oh, no, you can only put your child in if it's like four days a week. And you can't afford it. So this is the pressure back on mums to stop going back to work, because they don't have the childcare that they can afford because then it goes over those brackets too. It's cheaper the more hours you do but then they want to be home with their baby. Some are making $30 a week for going back to work."

ECE provision was considered to be of satisfactory quality:

"They vary. I haven't had issues with my one, or with this one here. But it depends on your individual experience of them. Overall, they're pretty good."

Primary schools in and around Taumarunui were considered accessible with enough schools available to meet the needs of the community:

"In Taumarunui there'd be six, about six? Depends how far out you go. Within a 10km radius maybe seven."

The biggest challenges faced by primary schools in the area were teacher shortages and teacher retention, and behavioural problems with children:

"Every school at the moment is struggling to try and get teachers. Even relievers. There are no relievers in our community and if there is, they are bound to a school because they're permanently there. Like, they're permanently relieving every Thursday, or every...."
"There are some (schools) with smaller class sizes, so some do pick their schools due to that. A lot of transient students, switching schools over time but it comes in waves, depends which teachers are at which school. Or they like someone at another school. A lot will put it down to bullying, but I feel sorry for teachers. They're not just in there as teachers. They are in there as mediators, counsellors, nutritionists, this that, they’ve got multiple roles that they have to fulfil. But they're dealing with many behavioural issues due to technology in these kids’ lives. They can't deal with not having technology in their lives so their behaviours at school are transferred from their home life. So the schools are having to deal with various types of ups and downs. And I can't say they’re just naughty kids, but it becomes the fact that oh, they're a bully, and they get put in this box and labelled."
"A lot of the staff that are training at the moment are already working as teacher aids. So, they're on site already. I know about five who are training to be teachers but also, they're fully understanding that what you get from the teachers college is not what happens in person. That's the hardest thing in retaining teachers. But we've got heaps of teacher aids who are actually teaching. They're teaching the whole class themselves for the whole day. So they're doing the same as what a teacher does but that's because otherwise, they'd have 50 kids in one class."
"One issue would be their salary, their first year of salary out of uni is only $52,000 a year.

Whereas in 2020 there were various perspectives, both positive and negative, about the main high school in the area, in 2023 the discussion was somewhat more negative.

"I was lucky to have the opportunity to move away because I was failing here. I left here with no credits and the teachers were... in disbelief of us. They were like, “We don't care, we are still getting paid.” Little comments like that. But when I went (to an out of district high school) I passed my Level Three just because of the teachers that were there and how much they cared. I have friends who didn't get the same opportunity."
"It's self-learning at the high school. If you have a kid that needs to be told, “We're doing English today, we're doing this,” then they will not do well. It's all about self-learning. What 13, what 14-year-old knows what they're going to do to pick their subject? As a parent I'm thinking of sending my children to boarding school when they go to high school and that's sending them out of the community. I'm not happy, as in I don't want my kids to go away, but at the same time I’m not risking my kids’ future careers on the fact that whether one kid is going to do well at that high school and the other one's not. It’s too big a risk."
"They must have over 300 enrolled but attending every day only 150 to 160."
"It’s a multitude of the things over the years. They've changed their style of learning. They were really heavy on gateway type things, training and stuff to get you ready for jobs. Internships. Every Friday. Used to be every Friday and everybody had to have an internship two years ago. So no student was there on a Friday. So every student got used to thinking that school was only four days a week. It's just the structure of how some things are set up. Again, it's the connection with the teachers. Those comments, it still happens, comments to the kids like we're not really here for you. It's a sad fact about it. They've also taken staff that are trained in specific subjects, science, PE or English, they put that particular staff member with a class for the whole day so they're not even doing PE anymore, so that staff member's going to hate that. They end up leaving."
"At the end of the day this high school doesn't have options. That's why I sent my son away. There was no First XV, there was no rugby. There were no options."
Some things they do well. Some things are great. Its sounds like we're all crapping on the high school. Some of the farming, the gateway internship is good. They say it's like a Weetbix box credit. You dive in, and oh! I got 40 credits! The cooking one is great, with those students. It's pretty amazing. they teach them how to cook, do the the dishes, then pre-test them, they have to then do every part of the house, servicing, cooking, the financials, budgeting. That stuff is outstanding, that extra stuff. Outdoor Ed, not too bad, it's sort of fallen off the radar a little bit. That's because I believe, it's funding. They've lost their international students which used to bring in quarter of a million a year. They'd be billeted out. That stopped during COVID.

Some participants felt that the learning model of the high school only suited a narrow cohort of children and families, and failed others:

Some kids can do super well if they're self-learners. They can do well, all depends on the family as well. If you have a family that cares about education, so if you have mum and dad at home and they dropped out of school and they're just muddling through themselves that same thing is going to happen. Unless you have a parent that breaks the intergenerational gap. That's the only way. More than likely if you don't have parents that believe in education, you'll go down that path but if you do have parents that believe in education you might do well.

It was noted that there were also two kura in the area which provided high schooling,

There's also the Kura and Ngāpuke as well. They are almost like an area school, they go right through. So there’s Te Kura O Nga Iwi, so it’s set up slightly different but those numbers, at one stage they had 23 year 12 and 13s, which outweighed the high school there at the time.

Participants considered that it was becoming more common for children to attend boarding school:

I chose to send mine away (to boarding school). It's more this year, more kids going away. Kids going away. Quite a huge amount of kids going away.
A lot of scholarships, eh. But it's a mixture, so all cultures. It's just not Pakeha anymore. It's Māori. Māori going out there and sending their kids. Going boarding or to a private school and it used to be a farming thing, or a Pakeha thing. Or the rich people. But now it's both. I don't know, I've noticed that. A lot of our Māori farm blocks have education grants for the rangatahi that want to go to other schools.

Accessing higher education for some young people was considered difficult due to challenges in moving away from Taumarunui and finding housing elsewhere, and also in paying for tertiary education. Locally, some post-high school training was available and was well-regarded:

You’ve got to travel or go and live with family. It's hard, you have to work to pay for it at the same time. If you're looking at tertiary it's either online, or... which is not as beneficial. Though some do.
You’ve got short courses through REAP, like, the very short, intermittent education. As well as Awanui a Rua, they've set up courses which are designed for local people to be able to, to suit the lifestyle more. Like little... some can be quals which go alongside employment, like First Aid, there's First Aid outdoor, canoe guides, guides on the river, those sorts of things so you can get jobs. That's one of the big pushes is that kaitiaki kaupapa of Te Awanui a Rua. From the farm to the plate mentality where you go and hunt for your kai, break it down, cook it. That, those are the sorts of programmes that Te Awanui a Rua are doing. There is good uptake of that. It's fantastic.

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