Northland principals are urging parents to make school a priority as attendance statistics show less kids in the region are going to school regularly and more are chronically absent.
Ministry of Education data taken from Term 2 last year showed Te Tai Tokerau had the worst attendance rates in the country.
Of the 28,388 students captured in the survey, only 47.9 per cent (13,597) were attending school regularly, more than 90 per cent of the time; while in 2018 51.3 per cent had regular attendance.
Northland also had the second highest rate of irregular absence in the country - students attending 80 to 90 per cent of the time, and the highest rates of moderate absence -students attending 70 and 80 per cent of the time, and chronic absence - students attending school 70 per cent or less.
Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president and Hora Hora Primary School principal Pat Newman said the statistics were no surprise, but the responsibility to get children to school lay with parents.
"It's not actually the school, we do our best, it's actually the parent. The days of saying we're not sending the kids to school because of kai, I don't think are valid any longer because most schools, like out own, provide kai in such a way that children don't feel whakamā (embarrassed)."
Newman said parents who didn't care about their children's attendance had learned schools can do nothing.
"The truancy services in Northland are about as much use as tits on a bull. They talk and talk and talk and at the end of the day they say there's nothing they can do. I have given up referring children to them," he said.
Newman clarified he believed the service was "useless" because their hands were tied, rather than a lack of effort.
"They can't [do anything] because at the end of the day the only thing you can really do is prosecute. I really do stress it is the parents' responsibility."
Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin announced last week a new Attendance Services pilot had already started in Kawerau and would be run in South Auckland next term.
Northland was not considered for the pilot as the Attendance Services contract held by Ngāpuhi Iwi Social Services is in place until December 21, 2020.
Katrina Casey, Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support, said after that date, the Ministry will be looking at opportunities to deliver a service closer to schools as part of the Government's interest in improving attendance.
This will include identifying the necessary contract arrangements to support this.
Casey said the primary responsibility for making sure students go to school lies with parents, and the school was legally required to non-enrol a student who is absent for 20 consecutive school days.
"The student would then be assigned to an Attendance Service provider whose attendance advisor would work closely with the family, Ministry's regional staff and other appropriate services to find the most suitable educational pathway for the student.
"Every case is different, and each case presents a specific set of challenges," she said.
Tauraroa Area School principal Grant Burns said the results were "nothing short of a national crisis".
He said schools needed to be a place where students felt safe and welcome but in the end parents had to get their kids to school.
"We know that employers in the north struggle to find workers who show up regularly. It's becoming a fundamental barrier to employment for too many students," he said.
"In the end the law is clear. Kids have to be at school."
Burns said there were many ways to help parents understand the priority of attendance including celebrating and promoting good attendance within the school; and offering incentives to families for good attendance rather than punishment for bad attendance.
Kaeo School principal Paul Barker said too many people still thought a holiday in term time and that the odd day here and there didn't matter, but there was a correlation between the number of days a child was absent and how far behind they were with reading.
"This year with the help of the Government's policy to fund us to not ask for fees we set up a scheme that all children who attend school for the first fortnight get their stationery free in an attempt to encourage the children to start school on time.
"It was largely a success though some of the target families still waited until after Waitangi Day," he said.
Barker said the average attendance at Kaeo School was 92 per cent but he often had to chase families himself.
"This year after one little girl didn't return to school I went to her home and when I arrived her mum said 'I was wondering when you would arrive,' – she has been to school every day since,' he said.