11 Nov 2022

School attendance: Minister Jan Tinetti rules out punitive approach

9:04 am on 11 November 2022
Jan Tinetti

National's suggestion of fining parents if children don't go to school won't work, Jan Tinetti says. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Low school attendance rates for term two are an aberration partly due to the impact of the Omicron outbreak, Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti says.

Her comments come after latest figures showed just 40 percent of children went to school regularly in term two this year.

The report also found four out of 10 parents were comfortable with their child missing a week or more of school per term.

Tinetti told Morning Report while the latest figures were worrying, they would have looked much better if not for children and families isolating at the peak of the Omicron outbreak.

She was also confident the Ministry of Education's attendance and engagement strategy launched in June was working.

The Ministry of Education introduced targets of 75 percent regular attendance by 2026 - which was higher than when attendance started to decline - accompanied by regional plans.

"We didn't want a cookie-cutter approach across the country. We know that schools are different entities. We wanted bespoke solutions for these issues," Tinetti said.

One principal had told her he was seeing 93 percent attendance over several weeks "and he said this is just like a new world for us so I know this is making a difference".

She said the government recognised regional responses as the key. In Northland, for example, a principal had drawn on the regional response fund to employ an attendance officer, pay for a tailored advertising campaign directed at whānau, and provided incentives to return to school.

"They're seeing a great result from those initiatives."

Attendance services were being assigned to private providers and Tinetti said the ministry expected to have the new system finalised by the end of the year.

However, it was also a time for "a reset for parents" after the disruption of the pandemic.

"It's time to get children back to school. We're doing our part with the attendance package. It's now time for everyone to do their part."

Tinetti said she disagreed with National's suggestion of a punitive approach to truancy which had been tried and not succeeded in the past.

"It's a really simplistic solution to a really complex problem ... we know that we've got to put in a complex set of solutions and not just go to something that's an easy way out. That's not going to work - the evidence shows it doesn't work."

She said in term two anyone isolating for Covid-19 had to stay home for a week. National's call for a 90 percent attendance goal was unrealistic, and showed people did not understand the nuances within the education system, she said.

She disagreed with the findings of a think tank which suggested the education system was in crisis.

"We're on the trajectory up now ... I hear a positivity from principals every day that they're seeing the disruption that they've had, they've now got the opportunity to build back better."

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