10 Nov 2022

Chronic absence rate nearly doubles in second school term - report

5:59 pm on 10 November 2022
High school students

School absences due to illness have hit a record high in the second term this year. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

School attendance hit a new low in the second term with just 39.9 percent of children going to school regularly.

Figures published this morning show chronic absence nearly doubled to reach 14 percent and both absence due to illness reached an all-time high of 8.6 percent.

The attendance report followed anecdotal reports from schools that the 10-week second term, which ran from 2 May to 8 July, was severely disrupted by rolling absences among both staff and students due to Covid-19 and other illnesses.

It also followed the publication today of an Education Review Office report that said parents were more likely to keep children home and for longer periods if they were even slightly unwell.

Attendance in four categories by decile across Term 2 2019-2022.

Attendance in four categories by decile across Term 2 2019-2022. Photo: Ministry of Education

The report said 39.9 percent of children attended more than 90 percent of their classes, the benchmark for regular attendance, down from 46 percent in term one this year and 60 percent in term two last year.

It said 13.8 percent of children were chronically absent in term two, meaning they missed 30 percent or more of class time, up from 7.7 percent last year.

The report said absence due to illness increased substantially, accounting for 8.6 percent of all classroom time in term two, the highest figure on record.

Attendance was worst in low-decile schools with just a quarter of children in decile one and two schools attending regularly.

Boys' regular attendance was lower than girls for the first time on record.

The report said primary school children traditionally had better attendance than secondary students, but in term two the difference between the two groups was smaller than usual.

It said rates of chronic absence where students attended 70 percent or less of term two were highest among Māori and Pacific children and exceeded 30 percent for that group in Years 11-13.

By region, regular attendance was highest in Otago and Southland at 44 percent and lowest in Tai Tokerau at 28 percent.

"Regional feedback indicates that, as well as the impacts of students staying home if they were close contacts or unwell, there may have been impacts on parents of Covid-19 fatigue and of attendance seeming less important. Additionally, some schools and families have found getting students back into regular attendance challenging," the report said.

Percent of term time in Term 2 2019-2022 counted as justified and unjustified absence.

Percent of term time in Term 2 2019-2022 counted as justified and unjustified absence. Photo: Ministry of Education

It said the percentage of term time counted as justified absence reached 10.4 percent, up from 6.7 percent last year while unjustified absences were 5.9 percent of term time, up from 4.6 percent.

More than 47,000 children took an average of 8.4 half-days off school for a holiday in term two, more students than the same time last year but fewer than in term two 2019.

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