School truancy excuses dubious
Going out fishing or a day at the shops are among the excuses parents have used to get their kids out of school, a Manawatu¯ principal says.
Not only were the excuses not good enough, it was affecting achievement rates, Sanson School principal Jude O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe said she was ‘‘horrified’’ at some of her pupils’ attendance rates and by parents who dropped their children to school 15-20 minutes after class had started.
The latest Ministry of Education attendance survey shows pupils’ time away from school last year increased nationally.
The data, based on attendance records from almost 630,000 students, show 69 per cent of Manawatu¯ -Taranaki pupils were at school regularly last year, a decrease from 71 per cent in 2015.
Unjustified absences, including truancy, family holidays or giving no reason, had risen to 2.9 per cent from 2.7 per cent the year prior.
Nationally, truancy rates were 4.5 per cent, just below the record level of 4.6 in 2014.
In a newsletter earlier this month, O’Keefe warned parents their children’s academic achievement could be adversely affected by truancy and that an attendance rate of less than 90 per cent was unacceptable.
‘‘We don’t have significant issues, but the occasional student does have time off for questionable purposes, for example, shopping on birthdays. We had to remind some parents that shops are still open on Saturday and Sunday,’’ she said. Other excuses included a fishing trip. ‘‘We’ve noticed some students in the past year whose attendance is less than exemplary.’’
It’s not something that’s typical in small or rural schools. It’s happening across the board, she said.
O’Keefe has turned to an incentive scheme to help combat truancy rates.
Pupils with a 100 per cent attendance record were repaid with a movie ticket, while those with 90 per cent or above got a book or an ice-cream.
Manawatu¯ Principals’ Association president Wayne Jenkins said attendance problems were a challenge for schools, which often stretched resources to help solve the complex family situations behind them.
Jenkins said the biggest concern for schools was the unexplained absences.
‘‘It links to poverty. These families are facing many challenges in day to day life. School just becomes another one.’’
Feilding Intermediate principal Diane Crate said her staff went above and beyond to help when they spotted problems.
‘‘When students are absent my teachers have real insight into what might be happening that is causing non-attendance - and how we might support the wha¯ nau,’’ she said.
‘‘We understand that reasons for nonattendance can be very complex.’’
Northland College principal Jim Luders said the current punitive response toward students and families was not working well and it was time to find other, more constructive approaches.
‘‘Some parents just condone kids being home and don’t value education. It’s easy to blame those parents, but for some, they don’t see the value of education themselves and genuinely think it won’t provide anything for their kids - so there’s some work that can be done [by educators] in that space.
‘‘We’ve got to be really honest about why it’s happening and think: ‘what is the parent’s perception of schooling?’ - it probably wasn’t good. We’ve got to talk to the parents and kids and find out what the reasons are, and how can we still get them in education.’’
Babysitting, partly filling parent roles for younger siblings, and transience were common issues in poorer families, he said.