Kids miss school due to lack of food

By Nicholas Jones, Cassandra Mason

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Hawke's Bay school truancy rate dipped to 9.8 per cent last year.
Hawke's Bay school truancy rate dipped to 9.8 per cent last year.

The number of Hawke's Bay pupils skipping school dipped slightly last year, a report shows.

But some parents are keeping their kids home because they're embarrassed to send them to school with nothing to eat, a Hastings primary school principal says.

Hawke's Bay school truancy rate dipped to 9.8 per cent last year - 0.6 per cent lower than in 2012 and 0.3 per cent lower than the national rate.

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

Nearly 27,650 students are currently enrolled at Hawke's Bay schools - more than two-thirds of them at primary school.

The principal of Camberley School in Hastings, Pat Watson, said tackling truancy with parents had yielded good results.

"We do a lot of work with the parents encouraging them to text the school, phone or come in to let us know why the children are away and that's improved tremendously."

While the goal was to get 94 per cent of kids at school every day, about 88 per cent were currently making it in, he said.

However, some parents were keeping their kids home because they had nothing to give them for lunch.

"It may be getting to the end of the week ... and they've run out of money and they've run out of food. It's a bit embarrassing for them," Mr Watson said.

"We run a policy where if parents don't have enough food in the home, they send their children to school and we provide for those children on those particular days."

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.

At the beginning of last year, the Government created the Integrated Attendance Service, and an additional $4 million a year has been put aside to reduce truancy.

Parents can be prosecuted if their child is away from school without good reason, but this rarely happens.APNZ

- Hawkes Bay Today

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