Drop in school attendance concerning

Holidays in term time are categorised as unjustified absences and a parent’s note does not provide justification.

Results showing a drop in school attendance in 2019 is a cause for concern, says NZEI Te Riu Roa President Liam Rutherford.

“The drop in school attendance numbers is very concerning, particularly the widening gap in attendance between higher and lower decile schools,” he says.

“Obviously, school attendance is vitally important for tamariki. As a teacher myself, I know that every day a child is at school matters. We welcome Minister Martin’s announcement committing to improving the Attendance Service through pilots in South Auckland and Kawerau.

“I’d encourage parents to engage with their schools if their children do have attendance issues, for whatever reason. A big part of solving this problem is strengthening the connection schools have with their communities.”

All parents and caregivers need to ensure that their children go to school unless they are sick, Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin says.

“The school attendance results for 2019 show, across the board, a drop in the number of students going to school regularly.

“Apart from 2018, this is a trend that’s been going on for a few years and it has to stop so that all our children and young people can get the education they need to set themselves up for adulthood.

“This is a tricky thing to talk about at the moment with the fears around the coronavirus. Children should not go to school if they’re ill – and most of the increase in absences was justified in that children were recorded as sick.

“But it is clear from the patterns of absences – they are worse on Mondays and Fridays, and 22% of students weren’t at school on the last day of term – that something else is going on,” Martin says.

“There are a number of changes the Government and the Ministry of Education are making to try and address this issue, but it is something that parents and schools need to take seriously, too.

“Research shows that every day away from school can affect results. For example, students attending 95% of days in Year 10 later get an average of 75 credits at Level 3 – more than enough to achieve the qualification. For students attending Year 10 for 85% of the time, only about half go on to achieve NCEA Level 3.”

A new pilot for Attendance Services in South Auckland aims to bring these services closer to schools and make them more effective.

“There has been a lot of dissatisfaction with changes that were made to the Attendance Service in 2013. The students it deals with are those who are regularly truant or in some cases not even enrolled in schools and local, on the ground services are needed to engage with these young people and their families,” Martin says.

“Pilots of the new approach will be run in South Auckland and Kawerau, with schools involved in the design of the services. The Kawerau pilot has begun and the South Auckland one will start in Term 2.”

Martin says it is critical those young people not attending school find a way back and improving the Attendance Service is one change the Government can make.  It is one of a number of changes that needs to occur:

  • Parents need to take school attendance seriously.
  • Schools need to provide good, safe learning environments for children.
  • Better data collection was needed so that the Ministry of Education and schools have a better understanding of the issues.
  • Improvements, in line with the South Auckland pilot, would be made to the Attendance Service

“To help with the first three areas, the Ministry of Education will be communicating to schools and parents. A social media programme to remind parents about the importance of attendance will start shortly,” Martin says.

“It is also changing the way attendance data is collected. All schools will be asked to record attendance across the year and the codes used will be reduced and simplified to make the process easier and the data more useful.”

  • The attendance data is from Term 2 of 2019 and captures all non-attendance – justified and unjustified.
  • It shows that most absences are justified but there are some increases in unjustified.
  • 2019 was not an unusual flu season during term two so there appears to be a behavioural shift.
  • Declines are seen across the term and on Fridays and Mondays.
  • 22% of students are not present on the last day of term.
  • Attendance is better at primary school and deteriorates at secondary school. Non-attendance rates are higher for females.
  • Attendance declines as term two progresses and is lowest on Fridays and Mondays.
  • 22% of students were not present on the last day of term.
  • “Regular attendance” is measured as being at school 90% of class time. This reflects an international standard and acknowledges that sometimes students are unable to attend for unavoidable reasons, such as illness.
  • For 2019 the average attendance rate was 88.6%.  (i.e. on average students attended 88.6% of their available half days during term 2 of 2019).
  • Holidays in term time could previously be categorised as justified absences if schools deemed them to be satisfactorily explained when they received notification of the holiday from caregivers. Since 2015 they have been categorised as unjustified absences and a parent’s note does not provide justification.