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New normal: reports paint an abysmal picture of NZ school attendance

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New Zealand’s worsening school attendance

Recent Government reports are shedding light on numbers regarding declining school attendance in New Zealand. 

The Education Review Office (ERO) released its report “Missing Out: Why Aren’t Our Children Going to School?” that analyses reasons attendance is down and some possible solutions.

Also being discussed in the media is the Ministry of Education’s 2022 second term attendance report. That report follows school attendance of the 10-week term that ran from May to July, 2022. 

Taken together, the reports show that regular attendance, defined as attending more than 90% of the time, fell from 70% of students in 2015 to 58% in 2021. Also, in 2022, barely three out of five students regularly attended class during term 2. Chronic absence, where students attended 70% or less, nearly doubled and absence due to illness reached an all-time high. 

The result was a record low 4 out of 10 students (mostly Māori and Pacific children) regularly attended classes. 

Overall attendance in decile 1 and 2 schools was the worst, with only a quarter of the students attending classes regularly. 

Also, for the first time on record, boys attendance was lower than girls.

New Zealand was already doing worse prior to 2020 against other countries, with regular declines in classroom attendance.

As little as 2 days of absence from class per term may negatively affect educational outcomes according to research cited by the Government.

Students who miss school are more likely to report poor relationships with teachers and peers. Having good relationships at school is a key motivator for student attendance.

Lockdowns, COVID and winter illnesses to blame

The ERO report says “families have found getting students back into regular attendance challenging”.  

Lockdowns severely disrupted routines and focus groups found 4 out of 10 parents and 1 out of 3 students did not view regular attendance as important.

2022’s second term absences were mainly driven by parents more likely to keep children home for longer, even if they were only slightly unwell, due to COVID 19 or typical winter illnesses. 

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti says record low school attendance rates for term 2 are an “aberration” partly due to COVID 19.

However, families are also keeping students home because the children are tired, in poor mental health, or being bullied.

In light of a slackening attitude towards getting students to school, Tinetti called for “a reset for parents”.

Response to the findings of low attendance

Minister Tinetti said the situation would have looked better if not for students and family members isolating at the peak of the COVID outbreak. She called the reasons behind low attendance “complex”.

The Minister said the government was rolling out regional attendance services assigned to private sector providers by the end of the year.

The Ministry of Education also introduced targets in 2022 of 75% regular attendance by 2026. The targets aim for higher than when attendance was at its peak. A goal that would be unprecedented in terms of the Government’s record of achievement. 

National Party leader Chris Luxon faced a backlash in his call for principals and parents to step up. “We have got to stop the excuses culture,” he was quoted as saying.

National MP Erica Stanford released a statement that “National would relentlessly target attendance by setting clear expectations for schools and parents that kids not going to school is no longer an option. We will hold ourselves, schools and parents accountable for ensuring that kids are regularly in school.

“We will shift resources from back office bureaucrats in Wellington to the frontline, so schools have the support they need to give every child the opportunity to benefit from a world-class education.”

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