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Text messaging to combat truancy

2 July 2004 Media Statement

Text messaging to combat truancy

Education Minister Trevor Mallard today announced that the Ministry of Education is calling for tenders for a pilot project involving the texting and e-mailing of messages to parents to get truant students back at school.

As part of the pilot, a small selection of schools in the Wellington region will be provided with software which connects to the schools' electronic attendance systems. The software automatically sends text messages and e-mails to parents when their children are absent without a reason.

"Combating truancy is one of my top priorities. It reflects our government's commitment to ensuring all our kids stay enthused and engaged in education so they get the right start in life. Experience from overseas suggests that early notification to parents that their children are absent can have a significant impact on truancy and attendance rates," Trevor Mallard said.

"While I'm pleased the truancy rate has been fairly stable since 1996, it's still not good enough and I do want to see truancy rates drop. This pilot, due to start in August, is one of several government initiatives aimed at ensuring children are in school and engaged in learning."

Next year the Ministry of Education will pilot a new student management system that automatically tracks enrolment information when students move schools. This is designed to reduce the time needed to re-enrol students, reduce the numbers of false referrals to the Non-Enrolment Truancy Services (NETs), and speed up the time it takes to notify NETs when students fail to re-enrol.

"We need to make sure these developments will actually work for schools, many of which operate different and incompatible computer systems. We had to do scoping work to get over that particular hurdle first before we could embark on a new system, otherwise it would have potentially been a waste of time and taxpayers' money.

"These developments are part of a longer-term strategy to improve schools' use of data and electronic management systems. Other elements of the strategy include establishing data standards to make communication between schools and the Ministry of Education more reliable, and encouraging more schools to use electronic student administration systems. Schools will also be given access to results of the upcoming truancy survey through the School Smart system.

"We need to make better use of attendance information and build on schools' existing systems to tackle truancy on a number of fronts. Some schools tell me they spend huge chunks of their day chasing up on unexplained absences. They want to focus on what is happening in classrooms, and that means doing everything we can to ensure children are in those classrooms.

"If text and e-mail notification proves effective, the government will make it a standard feature of all accredited student management systems and encourage all schools to use it," Trevor Mallard said.


- Parents are required by the Education Act to enrol their children at a registered school from age 6 to 16 and ensure they attend regularly.

- Schools are required to monitor student attendance and follow up on absences.

- 120 District Truancy Services are run by representatives of schools and communities to support schools to address absenteeism and truancy.

- The Non-Enrolment Truancy Service (NETS) works with children and young people who may be non-enrolled. It helps to find the students and subsequently enrol them at a new school or a legal educational learning situation.

- The Ministry of Education has conducted national truancy surveys since 1996, which show that truancy rates have been very stable over that time.

- In the 2002 survey the truancy rates were: 1.4 per cent in primary schools, 1.8 per cent in intermediate schools, 2.4 per cent in composite schools, and 6.0 per cent in secondary schools.

- The next truancy survey will be held in August 2004.

A fact sheet outlining other government initiatives to help at-risk students stay in education is attached.


The government funds 42 separate programmes and spends over $650 million a year providing additional support for at-risk students to succeed in education.

Alternative Pathways

- The government funds Alternative Education providers, Activity Centres, and Teen Parent Units to provide alternative learning settings and courses for students that are disengaged or alienated from mainstream schools.

- The Correspondence School provides distance learning opportunities for students that have disengaged or been excluded from school.

- The Notschool.net pilot programme is establishing the effectiveness of home-based distance learning through ICT for alienated and excluded students.

Specialised Support

- The RTLB (Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour) service employs itinerant teachers to advise and support classroom teachers to provide education for students who have moderate level learning and behaviour needs.

- Behaviour Support Teams support positive participation by students with severe behavioural problems. Their role encompasses both crisis management and one-on-one support to decrease inappropriate behaviour.

- Social Workers in Schools, administered by CYF, provides social workers that work closely with primary schools and other health and education professionals in the community.

- He Ara Tika is a mentoring programme for Maori secondary school students. The aim is to provide guidance and support to stay in school and to continue on to further education.

- Mapihi Pounamu provides financial assistance to Maori students who face barriers to learning because of home circumstance, ongoing risk to their wellbeing, or isolation from their local school.

- District Truancy Services (DTS) are run by representatives of schools and communities to support schools to address absenteeism and truancy through their attendance systems and policies such as patrolling for truants.

- The Non-Enrolment Truancy Service (NETS) works with children and young people who may be non-enrolled. It helps to locate the students and subsequently enrol them at a new school or a legal educational learning situation.

Curriculum and Teaching Initiatives

- The Early Childhood Primary Link (ECPL) works to improve the quality of teaching - targeted specifically to the literacy outcomes of year one students. This is designed to reduce the correlated risk between low levels of early literacy and risk to life-long outcomes.

- The Innovations Pool provides funding for innovative approaches to raising achievement of at-risk students.

Interagency Work

- Full Service Education is an interagency pilot of a holistic approach to the provision of social, health and education services to at-risk students.

- The Youth Offending Strategy is an interagency initiative which includes the development of teams to support youth offenders in learning and providing specialised educational needs assessments for youth offenders.

- Successful Youth Transitions provides pathways to employment and further learning for post-compulsory students (16-19 year olds) through school- and workplace-based programmes such as Gateway and STAR.

Truancy and Engagement Initiatives

- The Suspension Reduction Initiative (SRI) is a targeted programme for schools with relatively high rates of suspension to reduce exclusion and suspension.

- The Student Engagement Initiative (SEI) is a recent expansion of the SRI to a package of initiatives with a focus on ensuring engagement in education. The SEI includes:

o A review of District Truancy Services (DTS) to ensure that the system is appropriately structured to help schools manage truancy, and that the funding for DTS is allocated proportionate to need;

o Development and pilot of a streamlined truancy prosecution process for parents who support or condone their children's non-attendance;

o Early notification of absence and truancy through text message and e-mail;

o A new student management system for tracking re-enrolment of students; and

o Further research into barriers to learning and engagement.


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