Behind truancy: new reports on attendance service

Attendance service data and testimontials obtained by RNZ reveals the deep-seated issues behind our truancy crisis.

An OIA request has revealed half- and full-year reports to the Ministry of Education from 28 organisations contracted for truancy services.  

These reports demonstrate the deep-rooted issues that shadow students who have truancy / chronic absences, and systemic barriers to re-enrolment, such as schools reportedly refusing to enroll students.  

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The reports are dated to last year, when chronic absences reached 14 percent in term two.  

Common reasons cited for absences included poverty, unstable housing, cost-of-living and disengaged parents.  

Many of the 28 organisations contracted to do attendance service work cited high workloads and severe cases, such as young people who had completely disengaged from school. Most attendance service cases involved students whose enrolment had elapsed from unjustified absence. Case-loads reached almost 29,000 students in 2022, which was a 40 percent increase on cases in 2021.  

Anxiety and other mental health issues are driving absences. Photo: AdobeStock by New Africa.

All reports noted COVID-19 drove high absences. The reports stated that school closures due to outbreaks, staff shortages and health anxieties changed attitudes about school attendance.  

Students who were truant also often grappled with mental health issues. One report noted a “massive increase in anxiety, self-harming leading to suicide attempts”.  

In the Hutt Valley, an attendance service provider noted that referrals fell into one of two categories: those with mental health concerns (mainly anxiety) and young people with disengaged parents.  

Disengagement among youth was also driven by a lack of trust in the government, and misinformation. In Horowhenua, one attendance service provider cited “a high number of whānau who are expressing conspiracy theories.” 

Taupō and Kapiti area providers noted the same patterns in their districts.  

Barriers to attendance also included “long-standing challenges with transience and whānau in emergency accommodation,” said another report.  

Adding to these barriers were systemic barriers in the education system itself, such as schools refusing to enroll students.  

One provider stated that one secondary school in the region was refusing to enroll students within the school zone, leading to the Ministry of Education seeking legal advice.  

Photo: AdobeStock by Daisy Daisy.

“This has resulted in an extended period out of school for these students,” said the provider.  

In Wellington, one provider reported a school’s refusal to accept students who had been through attendance service.  

One report stated that a school was encouraging students with behavourial and academic issues to move school.  

Another common barrier was schools being slow to report truancy to the attendance service providers. A Te-Puke based provider said that “by the time referrals are submitted the impact of barriers can be too great.”  

“In general the student may have been missing most of the term before being flagged as truant,” another provider elaborated.  

Te Kura, previously known as the Correspondence School, New Zealand’s largest secondary and primary education provider, often reported non-enrolment cases to attendance services, the reports stated.  

Te Kura has rejoined that it has no access to attendance services, instead running monthly checks for students who had been disengaged for two months.  

“The non-returners data shows the Ministry which Te Kura students are out of the system, and then it is up to the Ministry to respond to the on-going education of that student,” Te Kura said in a statement.  

Reports also stated that the Attendance Service Application system (ASA) was outdated and non-user friendly, further frustrating efforts of attendance service providers.  

The Ministry of Education has said they are working on replacing the existing database.  

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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