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Too little, too late on truancy

Nick Smith National Education Spokesperson

14 October 2003

Too little, too late on truancy

At last the Government is acknowledging there is a truancy problem, but the measures announced today look more like a public relations strategy than a serious attempt to tackle the serious problem, says National's Education Spokesperson Nick Smith.

"The $8.6 million is spread over four years and at $2.1 million per year, barely keeps pace with inflation. The truancy services have had no funding increase for four years and this will at most restore some services that have been cut.

"The report on attendance indicates that there are a shocking 25,000 students truant each day, which means today's funding amounts to 9c per truant a day. The idea that we'll get children back to school with this sort of funding is laughable.

"The package also doesn't address the 7500 at-risk students enrolled at the Correspondence School. The expectation that such students will get an education through the mail is nonsense, and has even been questioned by the Education Review Office. Bailey Junior Kurariki, New Zealand's youngest killer, was such a student, and his case shows that hiding long-term truants on the Correspondence School roll doesn't work. It seems the Government has learnt nothing from this tragedy.

"If the Government was serious about truancy, it would also be toughening up the law. The penalties are pathetic as illustrated by the Kaitaia case of four children being absent from school for three years but the parents not being penalised. It should be made easier to prosecute, and the fines need to be far more realistic.

"It is telling that the Government thinks fines for long-term truancy are too punitive, but it will fine a driver for travelling just 5 km/hr over the speed limit. There is nothing in this package that indicates the Government is going to send a clear message to parents that they must enrol their children at school.

"The time line on the student database is very slow. Labour promised this is 1999 and 2002 and the best they are to deliver is a trial in 2005.

"National set out a comprehensive approach to truancy in the document "Schools of Excellence". It is this sort of approach that is required if we are going to get more children to school and reduce youth offending," Dr Smith said.


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