“New Zealand is facing a slow-moving train wreck as students just disengage from school. A lack of accountability from a bloated education ministry means New Zealand kids won’t receive the opportunities in life they used to,” says ACT’s Education spokesperson Chris Baillie.

“Newstalk ZB reports almost 10,000 students aren’t enrolled in Primary School anymore, an increase on the 6,300 reported last year.

“Labour is still blaming COVID-19, with Ministry officials saying Omicron is the cause of the decline. Everyone knows this is nonsense, since the spike of the pandemic truancy has gotten consistently worse. There were 40 per cent more cases of truancy last year than there was in 2021.

“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. How is it that the education ministry can hire so many extra people and achieve such appalling outcomes? Because it is focussed on pushing nonsense like ‘teaching maths for social justice’ instead of measuring outcomes. It needs to get back to basics and let schools teach.

“The Government is warning that parents who don’t ensure regular attendance may face prosecution. Great, but it’s hard to take them seriously considering only one parent has received a fine in the past five years.

“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.

“Labour has no ideas to arrest the decline. They want to keep on blaming COVID-19 until they can find another excuse. ACT has solutions:

  • 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 long term consequences. 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 hiring 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, high attendance (up to 10% absence). Require schools to attempt to make contact with a family on the day of an unjustified absence. Orange light, irregular attendance (10-30% absence) 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, chronic absenteeism. (more than 30% truant). Children will be referred to the Ministry of Education to deal with, who will make a decision 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 of Education to introduce an infringement notice regime for truancy. 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 of Education database. Most businesses need to prove they have delivered before they are paid, but schools do not have to report whether their students actually attended school. Under ACT, schools that fail to report would risk losing their funding.

“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 for New Zealand, we can’t keep ignoring the truancy crisis.”

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