Thousands skip school

By Brendan Manning

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Thousands of Hawke's Bay children skipping school has seen the region's truancy rates rise above the national average.

While absence rates have remained stable in recent years, principals warn that parents taking advantage of cut-cost holidays during the school term are disrupting their children's education.

A Ministry of Education survey shows 62,000 students nationwide are absent for all or part of a day in an average week, with 15,000 skipping school without justification. At 10.4 per cent, Hawke's Bay was among the worst in the country.

Taradale Intermediate principal Dennis Coxon said unjustified absences were relatively minimal and illness was the most common reason for absences.

"Our issues probably sit more around children being late to school," Mr Coxon said. "We follow up every child where there's no explained absence. We make personal contact, we also use a texting system. We have to accept, though, what parents say is the reason for the absence. I sometimes can't verify whether the child is actually sick or not."

Problems sometimes arose if parents took a child on holiday during a school term, he said.

However "sometimes the learning that goes on in some of these holidays is possibly as good as, if not better, than what that child could potentially have at school".

Napier Boys' High School principal Ross Brown said of children missing school to take advantage of discounted holidays: "It's not a phenomenon that's reared its head for us."

He said every school did its best to monitor absentees in all situations.

"All schools have procedures in place, from phone calls home to attendance officers. Most schools are doing a really good job."

The Attendance in New Zealand Schools 2012 survey measured student attendance over a week in June at 2166 schools. It showed absence rates nationwide had been dropping in recent years and sat at 9.6 per cent last year.

Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons said it was unreasonable for "mum and dad to expect the teacher to prepare individual lessons for that student that's going to be sitting on the beach in Bali or being a caddy for dad as he plays golf in Noosa".

Absences were highest on days either side of the weekend, with 10 per cent of students absent on Monday and 11.3 per cent on Friday.

"Participating in education is fundamental to student achievement," the report stated. "Every day a student is not at school is a day they are not learning. Over time, patterns of non-attendance can place students at risk of poor achievement and early drop-out, thus compromising outcomes in life across a range of social and economic measures."

Primary and intermediate schools had similar absence rates of about 7.5 per cent. Rates were higher at secondary schools.

Low decile schools also had more frequent truants. Maori and Pasifika students had twice the rate of unjustified absence of others, the report found. Absence rates were similar for males and females.

Gisborne had the highest total absence rate at 12.7 per cent, while the Otago and Tasman regions had the lowest at 8.3 per cent.

Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft said up to 70 per cent of youth offenders were not engaged with school and most were not even enrolled. "Non-enrolment, rather than truancy, is the problem."

Chronic absenteeism was the most powerful predictor of delinquent behaviour, he said. Non-school attendance was a symptom of greater problems at home including abuse and neglect, drugs and alcohol problems.

HB's total absence rate

  • 2012 10.4 per cent

  • 2011 9.9 per cent

  • 2009 12 per cent


  • 2012 9.6 per cent

  • 2011 10.2 per cent

  • 2009 11.6 per cent

Source: Ministry of Education



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