Lack of food, inadequate clothing and lack of transport are just some of the socio-economic barriers contributing to Northland's low school attendance rate, says the president of Northland's principals' association.
A new report released by the Ministry of Education on student attendance showed Te Tai Tokerau had the lowest percentage of students attending school regularly in Term 2 last year with only 60.6 per cent of students attending more than 90 per cent of half days. The statistics include justifiable absences such as illness.
Pat Newman, Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president and principal of Hora Hora Primary School in Whangarei, said the statistics did not surprise him.
"I'm very pleased that politicians have finally found out what we have known for years. In Northland, we know we have a high number of transient student and students who are truant," he said.
Mr Newman said ultimately the responsibility of ensuring children were at school fell on the parents or caregivers, but many in Northland faced socio-economic barriers.
"I think if you look at the attendance of a decile 10 school compared with a decile 1 school, there is a heck of a lot of difference. We see people with not enough food in the house - all these socio-economic indicators that don't affect affluent areas."
The report showed nationally 77.1 per cent of students at decile 10 schools attended school regularly.
That number fell to 57.1 per cent for students attending decile 1 schools. Mr Newman said that to improve school attendance in Northland, the socio-economic issues needed to be addressed.
"You need to go and look at what is causing [low attendance] and take away those causes.
"Sometimes it's food, sometimes it's clothing and if it still doesn't change and it's parents abusing their child by not sending them to school, they need to be hit with the big stick."
Parents of truant students, those who are unjustifiably absent, can receive a $300 fine.
Mr Newman said at Hora Hora Primary School there was a staff member who is on the phone from 8.30am to 12pm in an attempt to track down the parents or caregivers of absent children. He said missing school often has huge impacts on students.
On Monday, before the release of the report, Mr Newman addressed truancy in the school's weekly newsletter.
He said the school had joined Rock On, an inter-agency initiative to ensure the "abuse of children's futures by non-attendance at school stops".
He said the initiative involves initial notices from the school to whanau where truancy is an issue. The next step, he said, is more formal and includes the involvement of police, Child Youth and Family and other agencies.