School tru­ancy ex­cuses du­bi­ous

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - Your Local News - SAM KILMISTER

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.

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