3 Jul 2020

Truancy frustration 'reaching a crescendo' - principals

5:55 pm on 3 July 2020

The principals' federation says the government must bring truant service workers inhouse to schools because teachers know their students better.

Rear view of male elementary school student walking alone to school while carrying backpack, truancy

Photo: 123rf

This comes as Education Minister Chris Hipkins announced a $66 million package to tackle high truancy rates persisting since lockdown and offfer counselling to teachers.

Currently, if a student is truant, a referral can be made to a regional attendance service. A truancy officer then contacts the family to get the child back to school. But sometimes many visits are required.

New Zealand Principal Federation president Perry Rush called it "time-intensive" and said it would be best served by the schools themselves.

He called the new funding package "appropriate" and "nimble" but it did not adequately reflect frustrations.

"I think there's potential to improve how schools can deal with attendance issues locally [in the funding], what it doesn't appear to be is a long term solution," he said.

"Frustration with slow and overburdened attendance service providers has reached a crescendo [and] urgent improvement is required.

"Schools know the students who are frequently truant and are best placed to make the connections and build the relationships to address attendance concerns."

He called on the government to disestablish the regional attendance services and reinvest funds in frontline staffing that schools could deploy in their own local communities.

"Our view very strongly is that funding should be located within schools because schools know their young people best."

Of the package, $50m is an urgent response fund to increase teacher aide hours, boost home visits for students with poor attendance history and give social workers more time with refugee families.

The other $16m is for workplace assistance and counselling support services for the education workforce and their families.

Hipkins said this would benefit 10,000 additional teachers and other school staff by 2022.

"During Covid stress levels among families and students have increased," Hipkins said in a statement.

"In some cases the links families have with schools have been put under extra pressure, and we need to make sure students are connected to their learning."

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