1500 pupils play truant every day in north

By Mikaela Collins

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KEEPING AN EYE OUT: When City Safe officers Gail Lewis and Hoki Witute come across truants in the Whangarei CBD they take their details, tell them they should be back at school and notify the schools. PHOTO / JOHN STONE
KEEPING AN EYE OUT: When City Safe officers Gail Lewis and Hoki Witute come across truants in the Whangarei CBD they take their details, tell them they should be back at school and notify the schools. PHOTO / JOHN STONE

With 1580 students truant a day in Northland, one school principal says schools need to look at why students don't want to go to class while another says schools need more support.

Ministry of Education statistics based on a one-week snapshot last year show Northland has NZ's second-highest rate (5.5 per cent) of truancy with 1580 estimated unjustified absences a day and the third-highest frequent truant rate (1.8 per cent), with 364 students truant for three days or longer during the snapshot.

While the numbers are high the rate has fallen since 2014, when Northland had NZ's highest truant rate (8.7 per cent).

Whangarei Girls High School principal Anne Cooper was saddened but not surprised by the statistics and said there was no specific reason why truancy was an issue in Northland.

"[It] ranges from students who lead difficult and complex lives to those who take extended overseas or domestic holidays.

Some are needed to look after younger siblings, some have to walk a long way to get to school and this is a significant barrier," she said.

Susan Howan, Ministry of Education associate deputy secretary sector enablement and support, said most truancies in Northland were "day-to-day non-attendance" schools were responsible for following up. Once they had done all they can the case could be referred to the Te Tai Tokerau Attendance Service.

"In these severe cases there are often other factors at play such as very difficult family circumstances and drug or alcohol issues," Ms Howan said.

In 2013 the ministry cut its 78 attendance services to 18. The Te Tai Tokerau service, run by the Te Tai Tokerau Iwi Consortia, was awarded the contract in Northland. Ms Cooper said she did not believe the service was effective.

"The contract itself provides constraints such as they cannot pick up truants they see on the streets. They simply do not have the resources to work in depth with students [over time] ... which is what is needed in many cases."

Ms Cooper said to tackle truancy the school was trying to build relationships with students and their whanau by doing home visits. However, she believed the school did not have enough support.

"At present, we use our own resources to employ an attendance officer, student mentor, have staff do home visits, which is very time consuming, and put a plan in place for each student."

Northland College principal Jim Luders said his school got "massive support" to tackle truancy and thought the attendance service was doing its best. It was important to look at why students do not want to go to school. "Usually it's kids not interested. We know if you look at attendance in primary school and intermediate and high school there is a major drop off in years 9 and 10."

Owen Thomas, community services manager for Whangarei District Council, said in 2014 City Safe responded to 71 truancy checks - where staff check to see if groups or individuals have a pass - 70 involved reporting 138 truants. Last year officers responded to 136 truancy checks, 123 involved reporting 392 truants and this year to date staff have responded to 103 truancy checks, of which 88 involved reporting 207 truants.

"The statistics are disappointing. Truancy is a serious concern but [in the past] three months, we've noticed a significant drop ... in the CBD," he said.

Mr Thomas said that when City Safe officers talked to truants they took their details, advised them they should be back at school and notified the schools.

- Northern Advocate

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