Northland principals say the powers of prosecution need to be used more often for parents who deliberately and persistently keep kids home from school.
Pat Newman, Te Tai Tokerau Principals' Association president and Hora Hora Primary School principal, sent an email to Northland principals last week asking them to rate their experience with Northland's truancy service - Te Tai Tokerau Attendance Service.
Newman said he had referred families to the service - which is contracted to Ngāpuhi Iwi Social Services by the Ministry of Education - after the school had exhausted all other options, but it has made no difference.
"We've had people demanding we go and pick up children from the gate, we've supplied shoes, we've supplied raincoats and at the last resort we've referred them to the truancy services and there's been absolutely no result," he said.
"It's easy for me to attack but their hands are bound. They seem to be okay with the ones we can deal with, but where we have a real problem is with the ones that are deliberately being kept at home. The kids with 20 per cent attendance."
Te Tai Tokerau has the lowest attendance rates in the country.
A Ministry of Education report released last month - which looks at data collected through an attendance survey run across schools in term 2 of 2018 - showed: 14,100 students (51.4 per cent) attended school for more then 90 per cent of the time; 7644 students (27.8 per cent) attended between 81 per cent and 90 per cent of time; 3034 students (11.1 per cent) attended between 71 per cent and 80 per cent of time; and 2678 students attended 70 per cent or less of time.
Meanwhile, last year Te Tai Tokerau Attendance Service received 841 non-enrolled cases (students no longer enrolled at a school) and 854 unjustified absence cases.
Under the Education Act 1989 parents can be prosecuted when absences are unjustified, ongoing and condoned by the parent.
But nationally there are very few prosecutions each year and Newman believed there needed to be more.
"One of the arguments is that if you prosecute families then they don't have their money. But I think if they knew they were going to end up in court, they might actually get the kids to school.
"I think [the ministry] should be using the powers of prosecution to a much greater degree."
Katrina Casey, Ministry of Education deputy secretary for sector enablement and support, said the attendance service did a good job engaging with families whose children are persistently absent, and said advisers were skilled at working with families.
"We know that regular attendance is one of the strongest drivers of student achievement," she said.
"Schools work hard to keep young people engaged in education and effectively manage everyday attendance issues," she said.
Casey said non-attendance prosecutions - which were a last resort - were usually led by schools, with ministry support.
"The ministry can lead this type of prosecution, but schools are better positioned to provide evidence because they will have attendance records and information about any past interventions.
"Our role in non-attendance prosecutions is to provide schools with guidance on how to carry out prosecutions and, in some instances, reimburse the associated legal costs."
Ruakākā School principal Marilyn Dunn agreed there needed to be more truancy prosecutions - but said the ministry should take the lead, rather than schools.
"Once you put everything in place that you possibly can - what next? How are we going to make it happen so those kids get to school? It is the last resort but are we using the last resort? That's my question.
"I'm absolutely not for going around prosecuting people, that's just yuck. But there's got to be some way of making those parents get their kids to school."
When the ministry was asked what happened next in situations where children were still not attending school despite the intervention of truancy services, Casey said the school can decide to non-enrol the student.
"The attendance advisor would then continue to work closely with the family, ministry's regional staff and other appropriate services to find the most suitable educational pathway for the student," she said.