A third to a half of students at some South Auckland high schools have still not come back to school after the lockdown - stark evidence of the effects of Covid-19 and the recession it has sparked.
School principals say some students have had to get jobs to support their families, and some families can no longer afford bus fares, lunches or uniforms for their children.
Some families are also still afraid to send their children back to school in case they pick up the coronavirus or other diseases and infect vulnerable members of the family.
Kiri Turketo of Decile-1 Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in Ōtara said attendance had ranged between 48 per cent and 66 per cent since normal schooling resumed at alert level 2 on May 18.
"A lot of it is now through the economy. Parents have lost their jobs, or families have been banding together to share resources, which means school is not a priority for a lot of families," she said.
"Unfortunately I have lost some good students to having to go into the workforce."
One 17-year-old Year 12 student left even though he was only 10 credits short of the 80 credits required to get level 1 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA).
"His parents lost their jobs," she said.
"He got a job as a manual labourer because he's a physically fit young man and looks like a 28-year-old.
"He was torn between his loyalty to his family and his wanting to carve out qualifications for his future. His family were relying on him. This is what we are struggling with.
"In the past two weeks I have lost about 10 students."
Aorere College principal Greg Pierce, who leads the AimHi cluster of nine low-decile South Auckland high schools, said one other school in the group was "around the 50 per cent attendance rate" and four were between 50 and 80 per cent.
Three others, including Aorere, are more or less back to normal.
"We are normally 85-ish, we are 83 to 84-ish at the moment," he said.
Another principal in the cluster, Gloria Teulilo of Auckland Seventh Day Adventist High School, said her attendance was "above 80 per cent".
De La Salle College principal Myles Hogarty, who is also in the cluster, said his was 95 per cent - "slightly below our pre-Covid rates which are in the high 90s".
Levonne Grant of Strive Community Trust, who manages the school attendance service for Māngere, Papatoetoe and Ōtara, said schools have referred 546 missing children to her service since May 18, of whom 310 were still not at school.
"That's tripled. It's more than we've ever had," she said.
She said "clusters of families" were staying in one house to save rent, and were scared that one child could bring an illness home and infect everyone.
"I've been to one house where there were nine kids came to the door wrapped like Eskimos, with pink noses. If one's sick, they're all sick," she said.
"We see what we call 'house-surfing', where families are transitional from house to house. This is where a lot of families are unsure about enrolling their child in school because of the cost of uniforms and stationery when they are waiting for permanent residence.
"We have got a lot of the dads at home now. They have been made jobless, they are now raising their families, but it's very hard for them to change their roles. Parents are focusing on their own primary roles - that's like, when are we going to get another job?"
Many schools are also reporting more children being absent because of illness because of Ministry of Health advice that anyone with even a "sniffle" should stay at home.
Nationally, 86.4 per cent of school students attended school each day last week on average, only 2.2 points below the 88.6 per cent average daily attendance in term 2 last year.
The drop from last year was biggest for decile 1 schools (down 3.1 points to 80.4 per cent) and for Māori students (down 3.6 points to 81.1 per cent).
The drop was smallest for decile 10 schools (down 1.4 per cent to 89.8 per cent) and for Asian students (down 0.8 points to 90.6 per cent).
Meanwhile Manukau Institute of Technology chief executive Gus Gilmore said new enrolments for the institute's second-half-year courses are up by 146 fulltime-equivalent students this year, or 45 per cent, compared with this time last year, as people who have lost their jobs seek to retrain.
Students still wait for Wi-Fi
About 200 students at Ōtara's decile-1 Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate have ended the term still waiting for computers and internet connections promised when the country went into lockdown in March.
School principal Kiri Turketo said only about half of her 400 students who needed the devices and connections have received them, and new modems are arriving one by one.
"I got one on Monday," she said.
Meanwhile an Otago family that already had home internet has received two modems it didn't need - one arrived a week after the lockdown ended, and a second one turned up this week.
Dianna Sheehan, whose two children attend decile-8 Cromwell College, said the school "knew nothing about it".
"I want to know who's paying for this," she said. "Are we expected to send them back at our own expense?"
Cromwell College principal Mason Stretch said the school had only one family that didn't have home internet in March and the college gave that family a modem before the Government launched its $88 million scheme on April 8 to give computers and internet packages to all school-aged children who needed them.
Turketo said Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate also bought 30 computers for families that needed them, and lent families school computers, while waiting for devices to turn up from the Ministry of Education. The ministry has agreed to pay half the costs of the computers the school bought.
Ministry deputy secretary for early learning and student achievement Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the ministry had arranged to distribute 25,977 computers and 51,710 internet connections for families since April 8.
"The priority for despatching ministry-sourced computers has been, in order, Year 12, Year 13, and then Year 11 students," she said, starting from decile 1 to minimise disruption for learners working towards a qualification." "We have now been able to fulfil all of the initial requests for Years 11- 13 students in all deciles [and] we have now fulfilled 53 per cent of requested devices in Years 9-10 for all decile levels.
MacGregor-Reid said some students were allocated an unneeded router because the address was shown as having no connection.
"In this specific case, we have contacted the family and are working through what will work for them but will collect any modem that turns out not to be required."