By John Gerritsen of RNZ
The Education Review Office warns New Zealand has worse school attendance than other English-speaking countries and many parents don’t care if their children miss classes.
In a report published today the office said it found four in 10 parents were comfortable with their child missing a week or more of school per term and a third of students did not see going to school every day as that important.
The report, Missing Out: Why Aren’t Our Children Going to School?, said even missing two days of class per term was linked to lower achievement.
It found families were keeping children home due to illness, but also because they were tired, in poor mental health, or being bullied.
It recommended schools stress the importance of regular attendance, alert parents when children were not attending, and make school more enjoyable.
The report followed official concern about attendance, which had been falling before the pandemic began, and the introduction earlier this year of targets and a publicity campaign to encourage improvements.
The report said regular attendance, defined as attending more than 90 per cent of the time, fell from 70 per cent of students in 2015 to just 58 per cent in 2019 before reaching 64 per cent in 2020 and 60 per cent in 2021.
It said in Australia 73 per cent of students attended regularly in 2019 and regular attendance was above 80 per cent in the UK, Republic of Ireland, USA and Ontario in Canada where benchmarks for regular attendance ranged from 89-92 per cent and the figures dated from 2015/16 through to 2020/21.
Education Ministry figures published earlier this year showed regular attendance in term 1 this year was just 46 per cent.
The report said surveys and focus groups found many parents and students did not agree regular attendance was important.
“With such clear evidence that every day of attendance matters for learner outcomes, it is worrying that so many parents and learners do not see its importance,” the report said.
It said only 42 per cent of students said they would go to school every day if it was up to them and 29 per cent said they would attend four days a week.
Eight per cent of parents and 22 per cent of learners said school was not important and a third of students said going to school every day was not important.
Forty per cent of parents said they were comfortable with their children missing a week of school and some of those parents were happy for their child to miss more than that.
Most parents, 67 per cent, said they would keep a child home for a cultural or family event such as a funeral or wedding, 46 per cent said they would take a child out of school for one or two days for a family holiday and 35 per cent said they would do so for one or two weeks.
The report said 76 per cent of parents said they had kept a child home due to a minor illness in term 2 this year, 11 per cent said they did so due to mental health, 10 per cent because their child was tired, 5 per cent because of difficulty with transport to school, and 4 per cent because of bullying.
It said 55 per cent of students said they had missed school sometime in the previous two weeks due to illness and 14 per cent said they had isolated due to Covid-19 in the previous two weeks.
Schools said parents seemed more inclined to keep children home if they were unwell and most schools reported seeing more absences and longer absences for sickness.
In focus groups, parents said mental health was a valid reason for missing school because children were under a lot of pressure.
Some also said they kept children home to avoid events such as sports days or swimming.
The report said fewer than half of Māori and Pacific children attended school regularly.
It said children said they sometimes wanted to miss school because they had stayed up late the night before, wanted to avoid an activity such as swimming, or didn’t like school or a particular teacher.
ERO’s Education Evaluation Centre head, Ruth Shinoda, said: “Missing school adds up. If students miss a week of school each term by the time they are 16 they will have missed a year of schooling.
“That’s a lot of learning time lost. There is no safe level of non-attendance, even just missing two days a term is linked to lower achievement.”