“Every day this week ACT will highlight how to stop the slide and raise standards in health and education. Beginning with a range of solutions to deal with New Zealand’s truancy crisis, including consequences for parents and schools,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The next government can’t just carry on managing the decline of a great nation. That’s why changing the government isn’t enough. We need to change direction too. The state of New Zealand’s health and education services are slipping away from first world status, but with some political courage they can be turned around.

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

“This is not a Labour problem, it is not a National problem, it is not a COVID problem. It is a New Zealand problem that hasn’t been addressed for far too long. Over the past ten years New Zealand has only managed to go above 70 per cent regular student attendance once, in 2019, followed by a substantial drop to 57.7 per cent just one year later. We can’t just accept a level of mediocrity where 30-40 per cent of students don’t attend school regularly. Society will suffer if we do.

“Figures from the Ministry of Education show that more than 40 per cent of students aren’t attending school regularly this year. But 1 in 5 schools don’t even bother sharing their attendance rates with the Ministry. Who would bet against the schools who don't report having worse attendance than the schools who do?

“Worse, a reported 10,000 students are not even enrolled at a school. At best there are community providers trying to find them, at worst they have been completely abandoned by society.

“We have a truancy crisis in this country and no one is being held accountable – not the parents, not the schools. The Government and the Ministry of Education are weak and incompetent.

“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.

“New Zealand is experiencing a long term, slow slip away from the Kiwi dream. Children from poor communities should be able to climb the ladder of opportunity that is an education with high standards. Labour doesn't care about the ladder, ACT will put it back in place.

“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.

ACT’s five ideas to get kids back in the classroom:

  • Daily national attendance reporting: 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: 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. Ensuring 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 can again build a country united behind good ideas. ACT is the real choice for real change.”

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