ACT Leader David Seymour and Education spokesperson Chris Baillie have today proposed a range of solutions to deal with New Zealand’s truancy crisis, including consequences for parents and schools.

“A good education is the most important thing kids need if they’re to grow up to have a fulfilling life and be contributing members of society,” says Mr Seymour.

“When I entered Parliament, I made education my focus. I was responsible for Charter Schools which had high attendance rates and inspired children who the education system wasn’t working for. We need more out of the box thinking to keep students engaged.

“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.”

“As a former teacher, I know first-hand how important it is that kids are showing up regularly,” says Mr Baillie.

“Our education system has been declining for years now, Labour’s uninspiring goal of 70 per cent attendance appears to just be wanting to slow the decline rather than turn it around and they’re failing miserably at even that.”

“With shocking recent attendance figures, New Zealand is not a sustainable society. It is not passing enough knowledge from one generation to the next to maintain first world status.

"In Term 2 of this 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 attend regularly.

"The reality is probably worse than these figures present because 108 schools did not even submit their attendance data despite it taking five months for the Ministry to publish the data."

ACT is today proposing five ideas 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 this year, 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 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.

“We need real change to our education system so we have better outcomes for New Zealand children and ultimately the entire country.”

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