22 Nov 2022

National Party Christopher Luxon unapologetic calling for parental responsibility on school attendance stance

2:31 pm on 22 November 2022
National Party Leader Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

National leader Christopher Luxon remains unapologetic for calling on parents to take more responsibility to get their children to school.

He was questioned at Parliament about his earlier response to attendance figures, which found just 40 percent of children went to school regularly in term two this year.

Luxon said the pandemic was no excuse and was open to the idea of legislation, similar to the United Kingdom, where parents could face fines if they let children skip school in term time.

Today he acknowledged there was a "sickness component" to children missing school, but that did not "explain the whole problem".

"When I sit down with those principals what's really clear, is we've got kids deeply disengaged from school and from learning and there's a whole bunch of reasons for why it actually happens."

One of the "root causes", he said, started at home, before the children even got to school.

"All I'm doing is calling parents to responsibility to say 'Hey, listen, it's in your interest that we want your children to do better than you did' ... education is the biggest thing that creates social mobility and opportunity."

Luxon denied his comments were aimed at low income families, saying he was talking to "all New Zealanders".

So what was National's remedy in the form of policy?

That would come out next year, Luxon said, and the party had been "working hard on that over the last six months".

"We do have those ideas, we're discussing those ideas with the team and we'll talk to you about that in the new year."

Chris Hipkins

Education Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins agreed there should be some onus on parents, saying it was "absolutely important that parents prioritise getting their kids to school".

It was "better probably" for Luxon "to focus a bit of attention on getting parents to get their kids to school, rather than blaming principals and blaming teachers, as he was last week", Hipkins said.

He would "encourage" parents to think about the impact on learning of, for example, missing one week of school each term.

"Over the course of their life at school, that's a year's worth of learning that they're missing out on, so it is important that they're going to school every day unless they're sick."

As minister he was "seeing more reports of parents taking the kids out of school, for example, for family holidays, and so on".

"And that is really challenging for schools, that it's really challenging for those kids, because they do miss out on a lot of learning", Hipkins said.

Luxon said "not that he was aware of", when asked if he had ever taken his children out of school during term time; although when pushed he said there may have been times when the family was travelling back to New Zealand for leave but they "would have got permission".

That was not the sort of situation he was talking about, Luxon said, with his focus on "kids who are chronically absent from schools".

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