"There's only one message for parents, one clear message - send your kids to school."

That's the comment of local principal Phil Palfrey in response to a new survey showing nearly half of Rotorua students are not regularly going to school.

Rotorua schools are in the bottom third of New Zealand's average school attendance and chronic absences - defined as students attending school 70 per cent, or less, of available half days - is also on the rise.

A child who is at school only 70 per cent of the time will be missing 121 half days in this school year.

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When I go on a week's leave from work, I come back feeling behind and out of the loop.

Imagine missing a third of your whole year's work and then trying to catch up - most adults, let alone children, would throw in the towel.

So I can see where Palfrey is coming from when he says parents need to be sending their kids to school - regardless of their situation - if they want to give them the tools to achieve their dreams.

But, unfortunately, it's never that simple.

When you look at the children missing school the most, many are from low socio-economic families.

Schools can provide engaging lessons and find fun, new ways to teach the curriculum but that will have no impact on a child who is hungry, tired, cold and comes from a family that does not see value in education.

Poverty is a cycle and can not simply be broken because you tell it to.

That is not to say I excuse the actions of parents who aren't sending their kids to school but I understand that for some, at least, it's not because they are useless, have their priorities mixed up or don't care about their children, it's because they are just as much a victim of their situation as their children are.

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Many schools and charities are doing awesome work to break down the barriers to education with free breakfasts and lunches, more holistic support and help with clothing and shoes but we will not see improvements in attendance overnight.

This problem has manifested over generations and will therefore take generations to correct.

What we need to ensure is that we're not letting new problems filter in unchecked while we deal with the old problems.

If that happens we'll be fighting an uphill battle that I'm not sure we'll win.