Schools apprehensive as new truancy model starts

Hamilton's truancy-attendance service, SASH, will close its doors this month after the Ministry of Education announced a new, integrated attendance service would roll out in schools from next year.

The new service will combine the District Truancy Service (DTS) and Non-Enrolled Truancy Service (NETS). An aim of integrating DTS and NETS is to create a system that captures consistent data and information management. The new service aims to support schools to manage attendance, reduce unjustified absences and reduce non-enrolment.

SASH manager Jim Church said the Ministry of Education believed "we weren't reducing truancy rates enough to satisfy them". He said a case study of truancy services in 2009 revealed changes that could be made to DTS.

But three years on, Mr Church says nobody in their wildest dreams would have thought [the ministry] would disestablish DTS full stop.

"It's taken them until now to come up with a model of how they want the new system to work. I guess if you have faith in the Minister of Education you'd say they have made the right decision to implement this new scheme."

That system will see the country broken into 18 regions. He said the Waikato region would stretch as far south as Taumarunui, across to Tokoroa, north to Te Aroha/Paeroa, up to Te Kauwhata, across to Raglan and would include everything in between. "The size of the region makes it unrealistic for any existing DTS to tender for the contract." SASH serviced Hamilton and rural peripheries. A new provider for the Waikato region is yet to be announced.

SASH Trust chairman Gordon Crocker said there were "no sour grapes. It is the community that is important in all of this".

Melville High School principal Clive Hamill said not knowing who the new provider was or how the new model would work created a "huge amount of uncertainty" for the school, a time when they are trying to plan for next year.

"We're very apprehensive. We believe the SASH model has been very cost effective. It was an excellent service. Most importantly, while SASH's principal focus was on truancy, they are really an intervention and support for families. It's much broader than just non-attendance - that's just a symptom of a family under stress.

"We are concerned that the change is motivated by fiscal efficiencies, not needs efficiencies," said Mr Hamill. "SASH had made a huge difference to our attendance ... probably in the vicinity of 7-8 per cent over the past couple of years."

Mr Church, who has been with SASH since 1995, said the funding from the Ministry of Education "barely covered our wage needs". SASH has been given additional funding over the years from Wel Energy Trust, Trust Waikato, Hamilton City Council Community Assistance Programme and Community Organisation Grants Scheme.

SASH first began in the early 1980s from a "night owl type group" which eventually became West Hamilton Truancy Service.

- Hamilton News

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