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Real Solutions For Truancy Crisis

“Labour decision to bring back truancy officers must be accompanied by mandatory daily attendance reporting and fines for parents who refuse to send their kids to school – as set out in ACT’s truancy plan released in November”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Here’s another idea for the Government: keep tabs on how many truancy officers you have and what they’re up to.

“Labour’s approach to truancy has been simply awful: attendance data is five months late, the Ministry barely keeps track of what truancy organisations are doing, and parents aren’t held accountable.

“It’s no wonder Chris Hipkins has overseen the worst truancy rates in New Zealand history.

“The Ministry says it has increased the number of organisations contracted to deal with truancy from 45 to 79 but, as ACT revealed in November, it barely keeps track of what they’re doing. Despite allocating $16.5 million to attendance services last year, the Ministry didn’t know how many attendance officers there were and didn’t receive any truancy data from 108 schools in Term 2.

“We have a truancy crisis in this country and yet the data for Term 3 last year was five months late. Was it incompetence or was the Ministry hiding it?

“Only one family has been handed a fine for their children’s truancy in five years under s244 of the Education and Training Act 2020. Where’s the accountability for parents?

“New Zealand is not passing enough knowledge from one generation to the next to maintain first world status.

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“Our education system has been declining for years now, Labour’s uninspiring goal of 70 per cent attendance is more about slowing the decline than turning attendance around.

“Almost every aspect of someone's adult life will be defined by the education they receive as a child. If we want better social outcomes, we can’t keep ignoring the truancy crisis.

“Even after the spike of the pandemic, truancy has continued to get worse. There were 40 per cent more cases of truancy last year than there was in 2021.

“In Term 2 of last year, 60 per cent of students did not attend regularly. It gets worse by decile, with only 23 per cent of Decile 1 attending regularly. In Northland, only 28 per cent of all students attended regularly.

“The reality is probably worse than these figures present because 108 schools did not even submit their attendance data.

“What’s deeply concerning is that most of these cases involved children who had been absent so long their enrolment has lapsed.

“Instead of shovelling money out the door and then forgetting about it, ACT’s truancy policy has real solutions to get kids back in the classroom:

Daily national attendance reporting: The Government treated COVID like a crisis and maintained a national focus on the pandemic with daily case, hospitalisation, and death numbers for over two years. Truancy is also a crisis with major long-term consequences, but it took five months for the Government to report Term 2 attendance, and even then, 108 schools refused to report. ACT will require every school in New Zealand to fill out an electronic attendance register accessible by the Ministry of Education. Schools will be required to record which students have not attended school on a particular day and whether that absence was justified or unjustified. The Ministry will publish daily attendance in real time, building a national focus on the issue.

Empowering schools to deal with truancy: Schools should be empowered to deal with poor attendance through direct, cashed-up funding. The Government spends $38.5 million on truancy services and ACT says it should be given to schools to use for hiring their own truancy officers. The funding would be weighted to the Equity Index, so schools with more vulnerable student populations would receive more funding. For example, a poor school with 600 students could have an allowance of about $113 per student for $67,800 to hire an attendance officer. A group of smaller schools could band together to hire their own officer.

Traffic light system: Collection of data will be connected to a traffic light system. This will set out clear expectations for the responsibilities of everyone relating to unjustified absences. Green light indicates high attendance (up to 10% absence) and requires schools to attempt to contact a family on the day of an unjustified absence. Orange light means irregular attendance (10-30% absence) and the school will be required to hold a meeting with the student and family and develop a plan to reintegrate the student back into the classroom on a regular basis. Red light means chronic absenteeism (more than 30% truant) and children will be referred to the Ministry to deal with, who will decide on possible actions including fines and referral to Police.

An infringement notice regime for parents: Currently parents cannot be fined for student non-attendance without a court conviction, but they can be fined on the spot for speeding to school. ACT would change the Education and Training Act to allow the Ministry to introduce an infringement notice regime for truancy. We would ensure Police use section 49 of the Education and Training Act to work with schools on truants and to take children they see out of school during school hours to either the school or home.

Accountability for schools through mandatory reporting: Schools would be required to report their attendance daily to a Ministry database. Most businesses need to prove they have delivered before they are paid, but schools do not have to report whether their students attended school. Under ACT, schools that fail to report would risk losing their funding.

“We need real change and real solutions for our education system, so we can have better outcomes for New Zealand children.”

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