Sickness-related school absences to be targeted under government plan

Students missing school due to illness will be targeted under a government plan to lift attendance.

A 36-point action plan released on Tuesday showed stage one of the coalition government’s plan to raise attendance would be in place by the end of June.

Ministry of Education figures show in term three last year, about 25 percent of students were either moderately or chronically absent, meaning at best they attended up to 80 percent of the time.

Speaking to Checkpoint, associate education minister David Seymour questioned a spike in health-related school absences, saying the number of children kept home due to illness had doubled since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

“We accept Covid happened but that’s largely subsided now, and yet we still have a doubling of the number of kids kept home for health reasons,” he said.

“I think we’re going to have to start being a bit clearer about what exactly is a valid reason to stay home.”

Seymour said he wanted better information to be given to parents and students about the “balance” between public health and educational goals.

“We’ve had a lot on the public health lately, less on the education.”

Under the Education and Training Act, parents can be convicted and fined if their children are not regularly attending school.

The maximum fine is $30 per day for every school day the student is truant. Parents can be fined up to $300 for a first offence and $3000 for a second or subsequent offence.

When asked if he would change that system so parents could be given on-the-spot fines, Seymour said he had not yet made any firm decisions.

David Seymour

“I can see in perhaps a very small minority of cases where you’ve got parents who’ve had lots of chances, lots of warnings, and have the ability to pay, then maybe, just maybe the right thing to do is to fine them,” he said.

“It’s certainly quite normal in other countries, such as across Europe.”

Fines could be a “useful way to send a message that you’ve got an obligation – to your kid’s future, to the taxpayers who are investing in the school”, he said.

There would be “some sensitivity” around who could pay and who could not. A parent whose child was missing school due to poverty was not likely to be fined, he said, but a parent who routinely took their child on international trips during term time could be.

“What we’ll be targeting is persistent behaviour, in spite of warnings.”

Seymour said any fines would be a “relatively small part” of the overall truancy package.

He wanted better and more frequently shared data around truancy and more information for families about the importance of school.

He cited, as an example, a regional campaign that featured successful local people telling youth that they had achieved the heights they had because they stayed in school.

Practical assistance to help lift young people’s attendance rates, such as uniform subsidies or public transport discounts, were “not on our agenda”.

The government was not in a financial position to do so and schools were better off partnering with community groups and local charities, Seymour said.

Earlier, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said some of the reasons behind low attendance sat with parents, some with schools, and some with the government.

The action plan would have a range of measures, he said, but it would include “a part of that that calls parents to some responsibility”.

There were multiple reasons for truancy and New Zealand’s attendance problem did not apply to every school, he said.

“We have great examples in this country where there are schools with great leadership with actually very high levels of attendance.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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