A "shocking" new survey shows nearly half of Rotorua's students are not regularly going to school.
The Ministry of Education has released its latest attendance survey, showing Rotorua schools are in the bottom third of New Zealand's average school attendance.
Down more than 5 per cent from five years ago, Rotorua schools' combined regular attendance in Term 2, 2018 dropped to 59.4 per cent from 64.9 per cent in the same time period in 2011.
The survey also showed chronic and moderate absences in Rotorua had gradually increased across all deciles between 2011 and 2018.
Decile 1 to 3 schools' chronic absences more than doubled in the past seven years.
Kaitao Intermediate principal Phil Palfrey said the numbers were "shocking," and he had no sympathy for parents who did not make their child go to school.
Palfrey said the continually dropping attendance stemmed from a general New Zealand attitude which gave children the option of whether or not they wanted to go to school.
"It's too condoned. We need to, as a society, understand that education is desperately critical.
"A lot of our parents say 'have big dreams darling' but they forget to say what Martin Luther King says, and that is you can have big dreams but you've got to take one step, and that first step for many of our kids is being at school.
"There's only one message for parents, one clear message - send your kids to school."
Palfrey said education was not just about going to university. It allowed people to have a fulfilling life and contribute to society.
"Our kids need to have enough basic education to engage in whatever it is they want to do when they leave school, not limit their choices."
He said Ngāti Whakaue ties in the district were an integral aspect in creating a deeper understanding between schools and the community.
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said schools needed to look at the sort of programmes they offered students, as truancy increased when students did not engage with what was offered.
He said the attendance responsibility was three-fold: on parents, on schools and on the students.
"I don't want to come across as saying it's totally the parent's responsibility if their kids are not coming to school. It's what they ought to be doing and taking that responsibility seriously. But also, schools need to look at reasons why some students don't come."
Walsh said not going to school had a knock-on effect and the less a student went to school, the less they would continue to go.
"It's obvious. If you're not motivated and not engaged, of course you're going to feel bad about coming back."
Walsh highlighted how additions to the curriculum like Trades Academy and Gateway had a positive effect on student attendance as it allowed students to engage in something they enjoyed.
He said it was used as an incentive to get students to school as regular attendance was needed for them to be accepted into the apprentice courses.
Rotorua Principals' Association president and Mokoia Intermediate principal Rawiri Wihapi said regular attendance was more than academics - it created well-rounded citizens.
He said it provided routine and continuity in a safe environment and was "preparing children for the future".
Wihapi believed hardship and poverty was a reason for low attendance in the district which he said could affect transport, food, and the ability to pay for uniforms, fees, trips or stationery.
He said government policy needed to change to help struggling families.
Wihapi said most schools in Rotorua offered breakfast club and lunches for students who did not have food in an effort to reduce truancy rates.
Ministry of Education deputy secretary sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said a Year 11 student who turned up to school about half the time had a one in five chance of getting NCEA Level 1 while a student who attended every day had about a 90 per cent chance of achieving it.
She said while schools were responsible for engaging students, the primary responsibility was with parents.
"One of the ways to improve attendance is to design and engage a meaningful local curriculum content focused on the needs of every student," Casey said.