“Lost in the debate about the truancy crisis is the fact that neither parents nor Ministry of Education bureaucrats are being held accountable for their poor behaviour,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Lost in the debate about the truancy crisis is the fact that neither parents nor Ministry of Education bureaucrats are being held accountable for their poor behaviour,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“New Zealand is facing a slow moving train wreck as students just disengage from school. Before this Government was elected, students attending less than 70 per cent of the time had always been five per cent or less. Last year it broke 14 per cent.

“Percentages don’t do the numbers justice. 14 per cent is over 100,000 students, disengaged from learning and splitting from society. New Zealand society is committing slow suicide by losing its young people from civilisation. As the Justice Secretary told Parliament yesterday, truancy is responsible for the 20 per cent uptick in youth crime.

“The figures are the same for unexplained absences. Before this Government, never more than four per cent of half days were missed without explanation. That figure has now reached 6.5 per cent, double historical rates.

“Again, the percentages don’t tell the story. On any given day, in a class of 32 kids, two are absent and nobody in the education system knows where there are. Here’s a more likely story, there are three schools with no unjustified absences, and a fourth school where eight kids or a quarter of the class is wagging.

“You’d think it was time to get tough, to save New Zealand from this insidious decline. You’d be wrong. Not a single parent has been handed a fine for their children’s truancy since the Education and Training Act was passed in 2020.

“Despite the truancy crisis data for Term 3 last year was five months late. Was it incompetence or was the Ministry hiding it?

“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.

“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 oversaw the worst truancy rates in New Zealand history.

“Despite the Ministry of Education exploding in size – FTEs are up 55.3 per cent since 2017 – it still can’t get kids to show up at school. In fact, it’s being rewarded for its failures by being given more money and staff.

“We need accountability. That means 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.

“New Zealand is not passing enough knowledge from one generation to the next to maintain first world status. Labour’s uninspiring goal of 70 per cent attendance is more about slowing the decline than turning attendance around.

“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 considering 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.

“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.

“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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