The NCW Manawatu meeting in November featured Assistant Principal Barbara Pritchard of Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School. She spoke on the topic: ‘Truancy in schools and what is being done.’
Barbara Pritchard and her invitee, Audrey Jarvis.
Image supplied by NCW Manawatu.
Barbara outlined that students from 6-16 years were able to miss up to 20 days a year without untoward concern. However, New Zealand has a very high recent student absentee record, with Māori and Pasifika over-represented. She noted at in Term 2 of this year, 39.9% of students attended schools and kura regularly, and 10% attended 90% of the time. These low figures were partially caused by COVID and other illnesses over winter - see the most recent Attendance report (.pdf file) for Term 2 of 2022 at the Education Counts website - https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file /0010/218845/Term-2-2022-Attendance-Indicator.pdf.
Barbara explained the complex reasons for absenteeism. Major issues were chronically dysfunctional family life, lack of family income, parent and student disengagement with schools and learning, mental health issues, bad sleep habits, anxiety over peer groups, uniforms, lunches, and school work. Other disruptions caused by seasonal crop harvests, sports days and family trips or sibling sickness caused further absences. Special Needs students with ADHD were often highlighted on absentee lists. Barbara emphasised that by the time students reached secondary school, it was often too late to change ingrained habits of absenteeism. Low attendance equates strongly with lack of achievement.
Ministry of Education initiatives to reduce absenteeism were introduced in July 2022 with the ‘Attendance and Engagement Strategy.’ In Barbara’s own school, many efforts are made to ensure a safe happy school environment: there is an efficient network of early communication with parents once absentees are noted daily, which could culminate in using a ‘Rock-On’ truancy officer; resilience strategies are taught and the school curriculum has been refreshed to make it more relevant; uniforms, lunches and school trips are provided for as much as possible.
Most importantly, Barbara defined the need to engage and welcome parents and students to the school. She conceded, however, that moving out of the COVID environment has been a difficult task.