9 Apr 2024

Ministry of Education to publish weekly attendance snapshots as part of government crackdown on truancy

9:26 am on 9 April 2024
David Seymour

RNZ understands Associate Education Minister David Seymour will make the announcement on Tuesday. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A weekly look at how many students are attending school will be published from next month, ramping up to daily reporting at the start of next year.

The Ministry of Education will begin publishing the weekly snapshots from the second week of term two.

RNZ understands the announcement will be made by the Associate Education Minister David Seymour and the prime minister in Wellington later on Tuesday morning.

Currently attendance data is collated over a school term, but there is a months-long lag between the term finishing and the ministry publishing the complete picture.

The attendance data for term four of last year, which finished in December, is not due to be published until the end of this week.

As part of efforts to clamp down on rampant truancy, Seymour is responsible for designing the new attendance action plan for the coalition government.

The action plan was one of the 36 objectives laid out by Christopher Luxon last week as part of his second quarter targets to be achieved by the end of June.

RNZ understands Seymour's intention with the weekly, and eventually daily, publishing of the attendance numbers is to treat it like a crisis, given the long-term consequences not regularly attending school can have.

Both Seymour and Luxon have been vocal about their intentions to get more children going to school more often, but until now there has not been any detail about how they would achieve it.

The most recent data available, for term three last year, saw only 46 percent of school pupils attending class regularly - one of the worst figures on record.

Māori and Pacific students were the worst affected by the negative statistics. In addition, a record number of students also took holidays during the 10 weeks from mid-July to mid-September.

Regular attendance, which is defined as going to class more than 90 percent of the time, reached an all-time low of 40 percent in term four of 2022.

Happy kids at elementary school

School attendance plummeted during the Covid pandemic and has not recovered. Photo: 123RF

During the Covid-19 pandemic the ministry requested daily data from schools and early learning centres to get a better understanding of attendance.

It later moved to a weekly collection and measured the percentage of children present at schools and early learning centres, out of the number of children enrolled, for each day of the week.

Not all schools and centres chose to provide the data - but it showed the ministry already had the technology systems for collecting it.

The collection and publication of the weekly snapshots ended in September last year when the last of the Covid restrictions came to an end.

The ministry returned to publishing term data that showed how many students were regularly attending school.

RNZ understands schools will be required to provide the attendance data, but exactly how that will be enforced will be part of a wider framework being developed.

Coalition focuses on 'regular attendance'

While daily attendance data tells one story, the wider measure the coalition is focussed on is how many students are attending school regularly.

The 'regular attendance' benchmark that has been set under the public service targets announced by Luxon on Monday is having 80 percent of students present at school for more than 90 percent of the term by 2030.

The weekly-turned-daily snapshots will focus on general attendance, but the ministry will continue to measure 'regular attendance' each school term, as is currently the case.

Seymour is expected to lay out plans for how to speed up the reporting of that regular attendance data at the end of each term.

There are other components to the action plan still to come, some of which have already been signalled by Seymour.

He told Checkpoint last week he wanted better public information to be given to parents and students about the "balance" between public health and educational goals.

"We accept Covid happened but that's largely subsided now, and yet we still have a doubling of the number of kids kept home for health reasons," he said.

"I think we're going to have to start being a bit clearer about what exactly is a valid reason to stay home."

Under the Education and Training Act, parents can be convicted and fined if their children are not regularly attending school.

Seymour has indicated fines would more likely be aimed at parents who could afford them - like those who took their children out of school on overseas holidays - and would not target those who could not pay.

Seymour is also in favour of a public campaign encouraging the importance of attending school.

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