When students returned to school after the Covid-19 lockdown in October last year, one school in Northland only had about 9 per cent of its students attending school for three weeks.
Truancy is when students are staying home without a valid reason, but a lot of Northland students have just disappeared from the schooling system and education leaders reckon only community involvement will improve things for the region.
In a pre-budget announcement on Sunday, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said $88 million will be spent on local education needs.
"It's clear that young people need to be at school, and yet attendance rates haven't been good for a long time. It's a complex issue which has to be addressed right across Government, through social and economic policies that meet the needs of our communities," Hipkins says.
Tai Tokerau principals, while accepting the funding say it will do little until consequences of not coming to school are introduced and the entire community takes part in solving the problem.
In term 1, Northland schools have seen the lowest attendance averaging 73 per cent, compared to the national average of 85 per cent.
Northland Principals' Association President Pat Newman said that although Northland schools always had a low attendance compared to the rest of the country, the problem has become more complex after Covid-19.
"It is quite different this time. When we think of truancy, we think of students staying at home without any reason, a lot of these children we are talking about, they have disappeared and we do not know where they are."
Newman said there were multiple factors driving truancy in Northland, including but not limited to "Covid hangover and the lack of trust in schools".
For parents who had "not so great experience" in school when they were young, schooling did not fit very high on their priorities, said Newman.
"For some, it is a fear of Covid-19, some don't believe kids should be made to wear masks, and then there are those who think schools will vaccinate the kids without parental consent."
The principal said, in the past, food was a big hold up for students coming to school, but that wasn't an excuse anymore as schools provided kai now.
"In some cases, it is about getting jobs and having the money to get the kids to school and though jobs are becoming more available up here, there are still a number of families hunting for homes, living in garages and cars, etc, and everything just adds up."
However, the bigger problem, Newman said, was an acceptance among families to not send the kids to school.
"The money will be useful, the ministry is doing its bit and we are doing our bit, but it is time for the communities to do their bit, and by communities, I mean the families."
Within Northland, the Far North experienced the most student absenteeism during term 1.
Between March 7 to 11, when the average on-site attendance rates across the country declined as a result of rising in Covid-19 in the community and remained at 67 per cent, the attendance rates in the Far North, Kaipara, and Whangārei districts were 52, 62 and 67 per cent respectively.
Kaikohe Christian School principal David Rogers said the funding might be a part of the answer, but it was not the complete answer.
"The issue is complex and it will not change if we keep comparing Northland with other regions.
"The whole system needs a correction and it is not just education; the education system cannot be changed in isolation to other areas like employment, crime, life-expectancy; all of the outcome people experience through social services, that needs to be addressed."
Rogers said things would not turn around until there were consequences for not attending school.
"You cannot just keep applying money hoping it gets better. There have to be hard lines around it. If you are giving money, everyone will take it, but if there's no 'so what' around that, what are you going to do?"
Rogers said schools were already doing a lot to improve on-site student attendance in the region, but there was not a high level of engagement with families who were "disengaged from the education sector".
All the stakeholders, and not just schools and social services, should take accountability and help with the problem solving, said Rogers.
Selwyn Park School principal Vern Stevens, who is currently on sabbatical leave, said one of the root causes for student absenteeism stemmed back to the poverty in the region.
"A lot of the absences are condoned absences by parents, kids staying home to look after younger kids and that has always been a problem in Northland.
"On top of that, we have got kids who are truant anyways and Covid-19 has led to the fact that now we have got a lot of people who are in the habit of not coming to school.
"We have parents with lots of kids at home, struggling to make ends meet, who go to work with no one to look after the babies, that leads to truancy."
Stevens said after the last lockdown, only nine or 10 students of a roll of 110 attended school for three weeks.
"They slowly crept back to 50 per cent and just before the end of term, we are near 75 per cent."
The principal said that while the schools had been very understanding with attendance so far, "and for a good reason", it was about time to show some tough love.
"Students should be made aware that any unreported absences will be reported under truancy.
"On top of that, some kids do not want to come to school and that may be an issue, then we have got to find a way to get them interested in coming to school, and the funding will help with that."