9 Aug 2022

Schools say some truants returning to class but Covid-19 and flu still causing absences

4:31 pm on 9 August 2022

Schools are reporting some success in getting their most serious truants back to class.

schoolgirl in medical mask near teacher, apple and classmates on blurred foreground

Some children have been kept at home by families worried they will catch Covid at school (file picture). Photo: 123RF

Official figures show daily attendance was as high as 84 percent in the first week of term three after being below 80 percent for many days in term two.

Principals have warned that Covid-19 and influenza have caused a lot of absences. In addition, the disruption to classes this year and last year has prompted some children to drop out of school while others have been kept home by families worried they will catch Covid at school.

Whangārei Intermediate recently hired Robyn Hakaraia as takawaenga, a go-between, to talk to families and get children back to school.

She told RNZ it was still early in her role but there had been some successes.

"So far it's looking alright. We've had a couple of kids that have been on the list and are now starting to turn back up so that's awesome. I guess we need to sit down with their whānau with them and just have a discussion around what would draw them back to school," she said.

It was important to talk to pupils on their level, she said.

"You know just trying to take it back [to] how we felt when we were their age and just coming together with a plan to get them interested again. There are some who are just scared of Covid and then there are some who have behavioural issues," Hakaraia said.

The school's principal, Hayley Read, said Covid and flu were still causing a lot of absences and she hoped there would be some improvement soon.

"I'd love all of our kids to come back to school, our tamariki, it's the best place for them. We love them so it would be really great to have them all back," she said.

In Auckland, Tirimoana School principal Peter Kaiser said it also had some success getting children back to school after long periods of absence.

"We worked really hard like I think most of my principal colleagues so we have had success with most back. We are still struggling with just two families where attendance has been really bad," he said.

Winter illnesses were still keeping children home and daily attendance at the school had been about 82-85 percent, Kaiser said.

"I'm not happy with it, we would expect it to be higher so that's still 20 percent of the kids away potentially and for example today we have 17 percent of our students away, most of whom we know why, mostly it's sickness, a few cases it's isolating due to Covid in the household."

Teachers were also affected and in one recent week Kaiser said he had 22 teachers away every day.

Suzanne Billington from Tauriko School near Tauranga said families that were reluctant to let their children go to school last term seemed to be letting them attend this term.

"We've had two or three families that have been a little bit anxious about being on a school site. We've done quite a lot of work around that so they seem to be back a little bit more but as far as trends go we won't really see that for a wee while," she said.

Attendance at her school in term two was worse than term two last year and Billington said she was worried the third term might not be much better.

"We've got a lot more people out and about with Covid and not wearing masks. There's not always the safety measures that they're taking quite the way they were 12 months ago plus we've got new flus coming into the country because we've now opened up borders," she said.

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