A third of Hawke's Bay students failed to attend school regularly last year.
Ministry of Education figures showed 67.3 per cent of students in Hawke's Bay regularly attended school in 2015.
Students who attended more than 90 per cent of school time were considered by the ministry to have attended regularly.
Maori students were less likely to attend school regularly than their peers across Hawke's Bay. Just 57.5 per cent of Maori students in Hastings, 59.6 per cent in Napier City and 56.9 per cent in Central Hawke's Bay attended school regularly last year.
Hastings Boys' High School principal Robert Sturch said non-attendance was one of the greatest barriers to student achievement.
Mr Sturch said the school's attendance rates had increased over the last couple of years and were sitting at about 90 per cent. The unjustified absence rate was about 3 per cent.
Illness was still one of the main reasons for absence. Family demands could also prevent attendance.
He said the student centre was proactive about making phone calls when attendance slipped among at-risk boys.
"Parents really appreciate that because sometimes they don't know."
Mr Sturch said Maori students didn't attend any less than other students at the school.
"Our boys know how important it is to be in the classroom."
Nationally, 69.4 per cent of students attended school regularly last year.
Attendance was worst among Maori students, with 56.7 per cent attending regularly.
Figures showed 77.1 per cent of students at decile 10 schools attended more than 90 per cent of the time. That compared to 57.2 per cent of students at decile one schools.
Deciles are a measure of the socio-economic position of a school's student community.
Decile one schools have the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities.
New Zealand Principals' Federation president Iain Taylor said the Maori students presenting attendance issues were likely to be in low decile schools and non-attendance was likely to be parent condoned.
"And that's not because parents are taking their kids on expensive holidays."
The students might be taking care of a sick parent or younger siblings. There might be no food in the house and the student might be ashamed to arrive at school with no breakfast or lunch.
A parent may have been taken away by police or have failed to return home from a night out and the student might have to take responsibility for other family members.
Parents might also be forced to spend the day trying to resolve a financial, food or debt crisis.
"The other reason students may be away is illness. In the case of low decile school students there is a higher likelihood that doctor's visits are too expensive and so early preventative medical interventions are not sought.
"Consequently, it is more likely that by the time medical aid is sought, an illness has become serious and likely to take longer to overcome."
The Principals' Federation promoted a broad and rich curriculum so students wanted to come to school, Mr Taylor said.
"Applied or practical learning tends to be more motivating for students and results in higher levels of engagement.
"That is one of the reasons that we oppose narrow assessment measures in just reading, writing and mathematics.
"We know that students who are at risk of underachievement are the very students who need the broader curriculum."