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Soft approach to truancy won't work

Dr Nick Smith National Education Spokesperson

2 October 2003

Soft approach to truancy won't work

It is a disgrace that a mother who failed to send her four children to school for over four years is not sanctioned, says National Education Spokesperson Nick Smith.

"Truancy is being treated as a joke in this country and the decision on the Kaitaia case regarding the education of four children reinforces that. These children have been deprived of their education and opportunities in life. When a parent is complicit in this, they are guilty of child neglect and should be treated as such.

"This case is the tip of a truancy iceberg. Last year over 4000 cases were reported where parents failed to enrol their child at a school. There are no figures on the number of children who are enrolled but don't attend school, but a police swoop in June found 900 truants in Auckland, 200 in Kaitaia and 300 in Christchurch. There are a further 3400 exempted from school and 7500 pseudo enrolments at the correspondence school of at-risk students.

"Parents need the message that if you neglect your children by not giving them an education, you will be punished. Instead in this case we have a softly softly approach where no parent is held to account.

"This case is just symptomatic of a Government that is slack on standards. It has abandoned its promise to introduce a national student database, cut the funding to the truancy services, and discouraged prosecutions saying the punitive approach won't work.

"The Government is happy to fine citizens hundreds of dollars if they go 5 km/hour over the speed limit, but refuses to support fines for citizens who fail to enrol their children a school for years.

"The tragedy of school truancy is that it so directly linked to youth crime. It is no wonder youth crime figures are going through the roof when such a soft approach is being taken to truancy.

"National wants a zero tolerance policy to truancy. In our paper released last week we set out a comprehensive approach that applied carrot and stick. This latest case just reinforces that need for this sort of strategy," Dr Smith said.

Ends

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