29 Nov 2017

Rising school truancy prompts calls for better service

7:30 pm on 29 November 2017

School principals are calling for a review of the service for tackling truancy, saying some areas there get almost no service at all.

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Photo: 123RF

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin says she is worried about attendance and the number of children going to school regularly is atrocious.

Figures published this year show 67 percent of children attended school regularly in term two last year, down from nearly 70 percent the year before.

Regular attendance is defined as attending 90 percent of classes, and students could fall below that benchmark even if their absence was for a justified reason such as illness.

A group of Year 13 students told RNZ they wagged school because they knew they would be able to catch up on their classes later.

"It seems like I don't need to be at class because I can catch up easily enough and there are lots of things that are much more fun than class," said one.

"A lot of the classes are really inefficient in teaching and maybe, like a good portion of them, you don't have to pay attention to," another said.

Secondary Principals' Association president Mike Williams said a review of the attendance service system was a good idea because some schools were dissatisfied with their local service.

"The service is very patchy. In some areas' schools, principals feel they're getting a good service. In others, they're very concerned about the level of service they're getting and in some areas it's almost no service at all," he said.

Mr Williams said the government needed to ask school principals how to improve the system.

Tai Tokerau/Northland had the lowest level of regular attendance last year and the president of the region's principals' association, Pat Newman, said the local truancy service was of limited use.

"It's working in the cases where probably the school could have gone round or talked to them, but when the parent digs [their] heel in, they then have to hand it on to Child Youth and Family and ministries and the rest of it, and that's when it seems to come to a halt."

Mr Newman said lack of food, illness, and the need to attend events such as tangi were other reasons only 56 percent of Northland children were regularly at school last year.

But he said another reason was that many parents in the area simply did not think school was paramount.

"The importance of school education is perhaps not held as high as perhaps it is held in other parts of New Zealand.

"If you haven't necessarily had a successful education when you were a pupil, then perhaps you don't see it as important when you are a parent."

Mr Newman said an advertising campaign would help drive attendance rates up and the ministry should be more willing to prosecute parents who did not get their children to school.

Attendance service does 'good job' - ministry

Katrina Casey from the Ministry of Education said the attendance service was set up to work with students who were chronically and persistently truant and those who were not enrolled in any school.

"The attendance service does a good job engaging with families whose children are persistently absent, often in difficult family circumstances. These can be challenging situations, made more difficult by mental health issues, addiction or other factors," she said.

Ms Casey said the organisations' staff were skilled at working with families under stress and included former teachers, social workers and former police officers.

She said 84 percent of schools were signed up to make referrals to the service, up from about 40 percent in 2013.

"In 2016, the service received 13,005 cases for unjustified absence from schools, and closed 13,141 unjustified absence cases. Not all cases will be closed in the year they are received, which is why more were closed in 2016 than were received."

She said some of the cases were closed because students moved overseas or were removed from a school's roll.

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