Govt to double funding to tackle truancy

Education Minister Anne Tolley. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Education Minister Anne Tolley. File photo / Mark Mitchell

The Government will double funding to tackle truancy after a survey of schools found more than 30,000 children a day are skipping classes.

The Government acted quickly on its election promise to get tough on truancy, passing legislation under urgency that allowed parents of persistent truants to be fined, and ordering an urgent investigation into truancy levels.

But a Ministry of Education survey released today shows truancy rates remain almost unchanged from 2006, with 4.2 per cent of New Zealand's 750,000 students cutting classes every day.

"You've got to say that 30,000 is too many," Prime Minister John Key told One News.

"That number's got to come down," he said.

Education Minister Anne Tolley today announced an additional $4 million a year to tackle the problem, as well as one-off funding of $1.5 million to get long-term truants enrolled in schools.

"This Government is determined to get tough on truancy, and we have doubled the amount of funding to tackle the problem," Mrs Tolley said.

The survey of 653 primary and secondary schools, representing about a third of all state and integrated school enrolments, found two-thirds of truants were at secondary school, with truancy rates increasing as students got older.

About 5 per cent of students cut class in year 9, compared with almost 15 per cent in year 13, the survey found.

Truancy rates were 80 per cent higher at decile 1 schools than decile 10 schools, while Maori and Pacific students were twice as likely to skip classes.

The survey did not include figures on the almost 2500 long-term truants not enrolled in any school.

Mrs Tolley said the additional funding would help schools introduce electronic attendance registers to enable quick identification of casual truants before they started skipping school more regularly.

The funding would also encourage schools to implement early notification systems, which automatically send text messages to parents when students are absent without explanation.

Long-term truants would be targeted in a $1.5 million scheme, which would involve truancy officers visiting homes and searching known hangouts to get students re-enrolled at schools.

Funding would also be set aside to help schools prosecute the parents of persistent truants. It is understood they could face fines of up to $3000.

"Work will continue on our long-term approach, aimed at keeping more children engaged at school, rather than having to get truants back into the system once they have become disengaged," Mrs Tolley said.

"Evidence shows that regular attendance in school is the biggest factor in student achievement. Chronic truancy can lead to negative outcomes later in life such as violence, substance abuse or unemployment."

- NZPA, NZ HERALD ONLINE

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