2 Mar 2023

Keeping kids in school

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 2 March 2023

Kids aren't turning up to school in the numbers they used to. The government's pledged more money for attendance officers, but is there more that can be done?

Henry Hill School principal Jason Williams.

Henry Hill School principal Jason Williams. Photo: Tom Kitchin

Attendance at Napier's Henry Hill School used to be up around 90 percent.

But principal Jase Williams says over recent years, it's dropped.

"It's dropped off in the last year by about 8 or 9 percent, which is quite considerable really," he says.

Covid-19 has played a big part in that, as has social media.

"For a community that already has a lack of trust in the system, people started being heavily influenced in our community by social media," Williams says.

"The worst one we saw was last year - there was a rumour going around that got shared in lots of schools across the country, that schools had the authority to inject your children with the vaccine... ridiculous things like that become fact. Social media, I believe has quite a big impact on that bigger picture of attendance."  

Patsy Henderson-Watt leads the Miriam Centre in Whangārei, a counselling service helping tamariki and rangatahi all over Northland. In that region in term one last year, only a third of students were regularly in class.

She agrees with Williams, saying Covid-19 has made a "big difference".

"We all got out of the habit of getting up and going to work, or working from home or not going to school. That's quite a big reason, I think that's probably compounded what's already happening." 

She also says the cost of uniforms is an issue.

"Uniforms are just so expensive, I have no idea why we don't go to the [Warehouse] and get a $5 t-shirt and a pair of black jeans."  

But she says everyone needs to think about the solution.

"We need to sit down as a community and we need to look at 'ok, what do our kids need to look at to thrive?'" 

The government's $74 million school attendance package will bring in 82 new 'attendance officers', who'll work with children and their whānau to get them back into the classroom regularly. 

Henderson-Watt says although this could be good, the officers have to be ingrained within the community.

Williams says there are many things his school is trying to do to improve attendance, which at the start of this year was hitting about the 90 percent mark again. 

"We just try to make it cool and fun...we're kind of thought if you were a 7- or 8-year-old boy what should it be like? We have a slack line at school between two trees...we provide a safe environment but there's elements of risks where kids can build resilience."  

Hear more about how Jase Williams is "unschooling school" in the full podcast episode.

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