Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Treat kids to a day off school

An Education Ministry survey found on any given day more than 20,000 kids can be absent from school. Photo / Michael Craig
An Education Ministry survey found on any given day more than 20,000 kids can be absent from school. Photo / Michael Craig

Okay. I'm going to put up my hand and confess. In the past, on a number of different occasions, I was one of those parents. The parent that takes their child out of school and has fun with them, at home and abroad.

Parents can be fined $150 for being responsible for their child's truancy but you know what? I'm happy to count up the days I took Kate out of school and pay the price because it didn't do her, the school or the community any harm.

When she was little, in primary school, we would have well days. It always seemed a shame the only time you had off school was when you were sick and couldn't enjoy it, so we invented well days.

I was a single mum and life could be tough. When I had a TV presenting job, I could be away for two weeks at a time. The rest of the time I was working nights, maitre d-ing and later on NewstalkZB.

So every now and then, I'd keep her home and we'd spend 24 hours hanging out having fun.

Then I got a job that involved travelling to Europe for a month and I make no apology for taking Kate with me.

My mum came along to act as a nanny when working and Kate missed a month of formal education at Ponsonby Intermediate.

Her teachers were remarkably sanguine about us going away in term time. They said her experiences would more than make up for the missed learning in the classroom and they had no doubt she would catch up on her return. They were right.

The relationship between my mother and my daughter is strong and true and I have no doubt it's because of the time they've spent together - especially negotiating with Parisian taxi drivers and navigating their way around London.

We all went to the Tate Modern Art Gallery and although a lot of the art was completely lost on Mum and me - a naked man dancing in his kitchen on video with a purple dinosaur on the window sill is art? - Kate was enthralled and that was the catalyst for a life-long interest in art and art history.

The Brits have taken a hard line on parents taking their children away in term time - a crackdown on truancy in 2014 saw more than 16,000 parents prosecuted and has resulted in 200,000 fewer students missing school than in 2009.

And we have our own problems here. An Education Ministry survey a couple of years ago found that on any given day more than 20,000 kids can be absent from school.

But it's not the parents taking their kids away on holiday who are the problem, even though overseas holidays are believed to make up around 10 per cent of truancies.

It's the parents who don't have a home to call their own, who move from house to house, neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It's parents moving from job to job, taking whatever they can get, wherever they can get it.

Persistent truancy is symptomatic of a far greater problem than a naughty kid wagging school. If Education Minister Hekia Parata wants to get children attending schools, she should be telling her fellow ministers to make social housing and employment a priority.

• Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays, noon-4pm

- Herald on Sunday

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