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The Contemporary Political Dynamics of Feeding Hungry Children in New Zealand Schools

The politics of feeding hungry children in New Zealand schools remains contested. It is described in this thesis as political dynamics between various groups in society. It does this by focusing on contemporary political, social and ideological machinations around school food programmes, child rights in a local and international context, bureaucratic attitudes, the assessment of risk, and practices and attitudes surrounding poverty and disadvantage. Through semi-structured interviews nine New Zealand participants were questioned to determine their views, which by association were informed by their organisational roles. The interviewees were: three charity managers, three low-decile primary school principals, and one senior government official from each of the Ministries of Health, Education and Social Development. The Government ministry participants acknowledged difficulties in assessing the problem and were uncertain whether existing school and charity initiatives were necessary, effective or sustainable. They also suggested that food programmes were a Band-Aid solution, rather than a planned and coordinated response. For the school principals and charity leaders interviewed, feeding hungry children was their first priority. They also saw the problem of hungry children as firmly in their hands because of the absence of alternatives. All of the participants agreed that hungry children were a problem for the whole of society and that government, social services, communities and schools should work more closely together to solve it. There were however fundamental differences between interviewees' opinions, and the solutions they offered were generally limited to current institutional realities and organisational practices, rather than advocating radical change. Their informed views and the literature reviewed characterize a stark reality in schools and government. This reality means some New Zealanders favour feeding children in schools and others don't, while many children remain hungry to some degree throughout each school day. The facts surrounding hungry children in New Zealand are surprisingly little publicised; instead it is common for people to blame the parents of these children. Government politicians have pandered to these public attitudes and questioned evidence that hungry children are a serious problem, while at the same time heralding the success of their social and economic policies in reducing inequalities. Noticeably few government departmental reports mention hungry children in schools. Arguably these official silences and avoidances are manifestations of neo-liberal and Third Way ideologies. As a consequence New Zealand children tend to be punished for their hunger and discriminated against through action, inaction, shame and ignorance. Some local councils and Non-Government Organisations (NGO's) do however report on school hunger and in some cases have provided logistical support or limited funds for school food. Businesses and charities also contribute to some school food programmes. By and large however, the resources available and the value judgments of school staff, parents and communities determine whether hungry children are fed by schools. In contrast, with respect to feeding otherwise hungry children in schools, countries with state funded school food programmes possess a more informed and responsive public service and society. The availability of school food for otherwise hungry children in these nations is considered a natural right and a public good. This thesis advocates for the care and feeding of hungry children in New Zealand schools beyond current thinking and actions. It argues that the Government should take more responsibility for feeding children and informing society, rather than perpetuating ignorance and letting some children continue to go hungry.
Type of thesis
Anscombe, M. D. (2009). The Contemporary Political Dynamics of Feeding Hungry Children in New Zealand Schools (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/3273
The University of Waikato
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