Bay's truancy levels see slight drop

By Cassandra Mason

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The number of Bay of Plenty students skipping school is edging lower, new attendance figures reveal.

But parents dropping their kids to class late or taking them overseas during term is taking its toll on their education, a Tauranga principal warns.

The Bay of Plenty's school truancy rate dipped to 10.5 per cent last year - fractionally lower than 2012 but slightly higher than the national average.

According to the annual Ministry of Education attendance survey, released last week, more than a third of the absences were unexplained.

More than 28,200 students are currently enrolled at Western Bay of Plenty schools - two-thirds of whom are at primary school.

President of Western Bay of Plenty Principal Association Robert Hyndman said primary schools had more problems with "parent-condoned" absences than unexplained ones.

Excuses for truancy included sickness, trips "to visit auntie", and days off for birthdays.

Other families routinely took three-day weekends, others took their kids out of school for travel. "We have issues with some families who seem to put a low priority on their children actually attending every day. And that creates big problems for their learning."

Lateness was another problem. "People think, 'School starts at 9am, it's alright to drop them off at 9.30am'. So you've got kids coming in who have missed the first instructions of the day and they're playing catch up."

Parents didn't understand the negative impact this had on learning, and the extra stress it put on teachers. "Some families, especially if they're from another country ... might go back to [their country] for a term. And you don't begrudge them that."

Primary school children typically didn't get held back, but a term's missed learning could have a truly negative impact. "When we look at our children who are below national standards, in a number of cases they're over-represented with kids who have attendance issues."

The attendance survey gathered information from 1950 state and state-integrated schools on student attendance over a week in June last year.

The total national absence rate last year was 10.1 per cent, or about 73,500 students each day. About 17,500 of those students were away from school without justification - a rate similar to that of previous years.

Truancy peaks on Fridays and Mondays, as do "justified absences", the report shows.

Schools are also struggling with "parent-condoned truancy", including parents pulling kids from school to take advantage of cheap overseas holiday deals.

Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft said not attending school was a "massive risk factor".

"Apart from being male, the single biggest characteristic of young offenders we see in the Youth Court, is that they're disengaged from mainstream, and often all, education."

If there was a "magic bullet" to reduce youth offending, it would be keeping all young people involved in school until their 17th birthday, he said.

The Ministry of Education and schools had had a "significant sea change" in attitude, and were making much more of an effort to retain students. This had contributed to "record low" numbers of young people being apprehended by police and appearing in the Youth Court, Judge Becroft said. additional reporting

Nicholas Jones.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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