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Attendance Officers Are Back - But Is It Too Little, Too Late?

By ‘Alapasita Pomelile, Researcher, Maxim Institute*

Truancy officers are back—this time rebranded as “Attendance Officers.” According to the Minister of Education, “they’re going back to basics on attendance” by resourcing those on the ground. And it's going to take $37.6m of government funding.

This funding is part of a $74m school attendance package to establish 82 new attendance officer roles. Other package features include $28.4m towards increasing the capacity of Attendance Services and $7.73m to improve a standardised system for attendance data collection and analysis.

This package sounds promising, but we are presented with a reheated policy in an election year. Considering the Ministry of Education doesn’t know how many attendance officers there are in schools or how much money is being spent on them, this is alarming. How will a policy throw more money at yes, necessary Attendance Services yet fail at the basic levels of monitoring these services?

Truancy is a pressing issue, but it appears that indifference is the norm when it comes to tackling it. One news article described truancy as worsening and chronic, but most children are still going to school most of the time. In other words, truancy exists, but most of our children attend school, so it is neither dire nor urgent. The trouble is that the truancy data is too disastrous to ignore.

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Recent data shows that truancy rates have reached their highest level in the past decade. Forty-six per cent of school children attend school regularly/attend ninety percent of a

10-week school term. This begs the question, what is happening to the fifty-four per cent of schoolchildren that don’t attend school regularly? Recently released Term 3 data shows chronic absenteeism (attending class 70% or less) at 12.8%, up from 8.8% in the same term in 2021 and 7.4% in 2019.

Our truancy dilemma has been a longstanding issue that continues to be kicked down the track for the next generation to fix. Every election year, it surfaces only to be met with junk-food policies. They look and sound and may appear nice, but they need more substance.

Truancy, without a doubt, is complex and therefore requires multifaceted policy solutions.

Like more targeted support for schools to implement preventive measures for learners at risk of chronic truancy. Sometimes, the school and learning environment is unsuitable for a learner with attendance issues. So why don’t we invest more in alternative education pathways? We say we recognise the importance of the teacher-student relationship. Still, we have not implemented policies or provided ongoing funding to support teachers in addressing the learning loss caused by pandemic disruptions.

Research shows that truancy is associated with poor educational outcomes, unemployment, reduced future learning capacity, drug involvement, and criminal activity. Truancy is a like a disease that spreads its sickness through various aspects of society. Interventions are needed at the individual, family, school and community levels. Attendance officers are an excellent start, but more is required to ensure no child is left behind.

*Maxim Institute is an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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