Myles Ferris says ensuring whanau are engaged with schools and living in healthy environments are some steps which could tackle Northland's high frequent truant rate.

The Ministry of Education attendance report, released this month, showed Northland had the second highest frequent truant rate (2.6 per cent) with 575 students unjustifiably absent for three days or longer during survey week - June 13 to June 17 - last year.

Of those 575 students, 407, or 70.8 per cent, were Maori.

Mr Ferris, vice-president of Te Akatea Maori Principals Association and principal of Te Kura o Otangarei, said while the numbers were distressing they were not surprising.


"There's no one particular reason why it is higher than other parts of the country.

"Transients is one of the key areas, when you look at that it is tied to poverty. There are families living in motels, a distinct lack of housing.

"When it comes to that their priority is not necessarily to get their kids to school every day, they are worried about putting a roof over their head."

Mr Ferris said in most cases truancy was not happening because kids were wagging school and wandering the streets.

Instead it was a range of issues. He said sometimes there were legitimate reasons for children being away, but parents were not informing the schools.

Northland had the second lowest regular attendance rate with 12,479 students out of 22,339 (55.9per cent) attending 90per cent of all school time in Term 2.

Northland also had the highest unjustified absence rate at 6.3per cent with 132,196 unjustified half days absent - about 5.9 half days truant per student.

Mr Ferris said there was no single solution to address the poor attendance in Northland.


"I think primarily we do have to do a better job of ensuring our whanau are healthy, well-fed, in houses that are warm and that there's not over-crowding."

Mr Ferris said truancy officers should be in the schools working with senior management to ensure they can get on top of some of these more challenging truancy issues.

"They should be meeting the families identifying what the issues are, not with a big stick, but actually getting to know them and getting to understand their issues."

Mr Ferris said Te Kura o Otangarei meet weekly with support workers to discuss children who are frequently truant.

"At the end of the day someone needs to go around to that whanau to find out what the issues are."

Mr Ferris said it was also important for schools to be culturally responsive, have culturally capable staff, and be willing to engage with whanau.

Inspector Al Symonds, Northland police Child Protection Team, said there was a correlation between truancy and youth offending and police worked with agencies to identify kids who are consistently absent from class.

"Families play a vital role in fostering the success of our tamariki and they need to take responsibility for making sure their children are present in classrooms and are actively involved in their education."

Katrina Casey, Ministry of Education deputy secretary enablement and support, said keeping kids engaged in education is vital for their success at school and later in life.

"Attending school is not just the law of the land up until the age of 16, it's also the key to setting our young people up for life."

Ms Casey said this is why it was important schools, the attendance service, police and other agencies worked together to support families with children that are skipping school.