Bullying and babysitting keep kids out of school

By Imran Ali

Babysitting, bullying, regularly moving home and hunger are some of the reasons Northland secondary students are the worst in the country for skipping school.

And the region's principals warn the situation will not get any better unless more resources are provided to check on truant students.

The absence rate in Northland schools last year was 13.1 per cent - the national average is 10.2 per cent.

Kaipara schools recorded the highest truancy rate in the country at 16.5 per cent, an increase of 5.6 per cent from 2010. Far North schools registered 14 per cent and Whangarei 11.6 per cent.

More than 20 per cent of Northland pupils missed school at least one day a week, according to an attendance survey based on Term 2 of last year.

Northland Secondary School Principals Association president Anne Cooper said there were several reasons for Northland's truancy rate, with high transience the main factor.

Truancy was only a symptom that involved a lot of underlying factors, such as financially struggling families and the large geographic areas that some schools covered, she said.

Ms Cooper said most, if not all, schools neither had the resources nor the funding to chase truant students on a daily basis.

"There's quite a degree of variability because Northland is a huge geographic region and transience is [one] of the things we struggle with.

"In some struggling families, older children need to look after younger ones so there's a whole range of factors from learning difficulties to home circumstances and, sometimes in secondary schools, it's very hard to change those circumstances," the Whangarei Girls' High School principal said.

Kaitaia College principal William Tailby said truancy had been a major problem among a significant group of students in his school.

"It's an issue the school and my board has been battling with and last year we were concerned about truancy in a number of senior students."

He said the reasons for skipping school varied but his school employed all the mechanisms available with limited resources to get students to their classrooms.

Those included sending attendance officers to the homes of truants and texting and calling their families.

Te Ora Hou manager Lou Davis oversees the School Attendance Services (SAS) division at The Pulse.

There could be many reasons for students' absence from school such as incorrect uniforms, lack of lunch, bullying to, from and/or at school, poverty, and having to look after family members at home.

An initiative known as Slam Bunk was launched in Whangarei in mid-2009 to help families of hard-core truants get their kids back in school.

The initiative involving police, the Ministry of Education and Child Youth and Family, is aimed at tackling serial truancy, with the final step being court action.

Under the Education Act, students who are absent for more than 20 days can be automatically removed from the school roll. The lowest non-school attendance was Tasman, at 7.3 per cent.

- Northern Advocate

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