Attending school on a regular basis is hugely important. Every day counts towards a child’s learning and pays huge dividends for their future. Find out more about school attendance and truancy in New Zealand.

Regular attendance is needed for children to continue learning and improving their basic reading, writing and other skills they need. It also means they are likely to experience educational success.

To this end it’s really important that you place importance on regular attendance. As always, children learn by example and will take your lead. If you show a relaxed attitude to their going to school, then they will too.

School attendance rates have been dropping over the last number of years, and are as low as 50% in some decile 1 schools.

school attendance rates in New Zealand

There’s another reason why regular attendance at school is important – it’s compulsory and now parents and caregivers can be prosecuted in extreme cases of truancy.

Attending school is compulsory by law

Children are legally required to be enrolled at and regularly attend school between the ages of six and sixteen. If this doesn’t happen then parents, caregivers, whanau, whoever is ultimately responsible for that child can be prosecuted.

All children in New Zealand, except foreign students, are entitled to attend school free from their fifth birthday.

If your child is absent on any given day, where possible you should let the school know. This is especially important where a school operates a system for checking that their students arrive at school safely.

You can do this by phoning the school office and telling them your child’s name, classroom name or number and why they are absent. Some schools may have an automated process for reporting absences.

It’s also helpful for the school if you follow this up with a note stating the same things when your child returns to school.

It is acceptable for you as a parent to ask for your child to have time off from school for special reasons such as medical appointments. You are also within your rights to ask that your child be exempted from religious instruction or classes in sex education.

If your child is absent for a period of time, be it a day or more, then in the interest of student safety, the school should make contact with you to discuss your child’s whereabouts. Although this is not a legal requirement, so is not always the case.

Remember that the school becomes the guardian of your child during the school day so they’ll want to get it right and know where every one of their students are at any given time.

So what can you do to help?

Your child has to view going to school as a positive. This will help with their wanting to be there five days of every week. Obviously from time to time there may be hiccups in this process but you as the adult need to keep the chin up.

Routines and rituals are the best way to ensure going to school is easy. Children love to know what’s coming up next, curve balls can cause muddle in their little minds and throw them denting their confidence.

Some basic, easy to establish rituals and routines you can put in place that will help are –

Being organised for the next day

Make sure bags are packed, uniforms are laid out and homework is completed the afternoon/night before school. Rushing in the morning puts everyone on edge and causes problems. (It’s as important for us big people to know everything’s done the night before).

Plenty of sleep on school nights

It’s so important to set school night bedtimes and stick to them where humanly possible. A tired, scratchy kid at school is no fun for anyone, even the tired scratchy kid and chances are they won’t want to get up and go in the morning.

A hearty brekkie

A hungry brain doesn’t function well enough to learn and take in everything a school day offers!

Be happy!

Morning moaning and nagging means everyone’s day is off to a bad start. There’s nothing worse than facing a day away from your loved ones knowing you yelled or moaned at them in the morning. For a child who may already be reluctant to go to school that morning, this sort of start is going to really dampen their spirits.

Think about this as morning madness whirlwinds about you. Keep a smile on your face; stay upbeat, for their sakes.

Be on time

Help your child get up, ready, out the door and into the classroom on time. Punctuality is important to learn, for school and the rest of their lives.

For more ideas check out our article on positive, helpful rituals and routines.

You are legally responsible for your child’s truancy

truancy in New Zealand

Just as your child is legally required to be in school, and your child’s school is legally required to ensure their attendance, you are also legally responsible for them.

If your child is regularly truant from school, the school’s Board of Trustees can prosecute you as the child’s legal guardian.

Under the Education Act 1989, any parent whose child does not attend school as required commits an offence and, if convicted, is liable for a fine not exceeding $30 for every day the child was absence, up to a maximum $300. A second conviction for the same offence can see a parent fined $3000.

Although this is always a last resort option, 42 parents and caregivers have been prosecuted over the last few years.

What do I do with a child who doesn’t want to go to school?

Chances are this will be the case for you at least once in your life as a parent.

If, and when it happens to you there are a few things you can do –

  • Ask why they don’t want to go? If they are sick, work through that scenario.

Not sick? Ask about some other aspects of school –

  • Is there something happening that day they are reluctant to take part in?
  • Are there friend issues? Who did they play with yesterday? Is that different from the norm?
  • What are some neat things that happened at school yesterday/last week? They might happen again? See if this line of conversation leads to something that may be concerning your child.

If they are not sick then they need to go to school. If possible for you, go into school with them and have a chat with the teacher.

Maybe some of your conversation before this will have thrown up something you need to discuss with him or her. Or maybe your conversation left you at a loose end and you need to get the teachers take on how your child’s been over the last little while.

If you can’t get into the school that morning, don’t leave it too long to do so, or phone and have a conversation with the teacher over the phone.

When you have a child reluctant to go to school you want to have it sorted as soon as possible.

Other help

If your child becomes a truant on a regular basis and you are doing everything in your power to stop this, there are places you can seek support.

Obviously the school is your first port of call. Teachers and support staff at the school will be able to assist you so far with your child’s truancy.

Attendance Services work with schools and support them with students who are consistent truants.

Schools refer students to this service who in turn are charged with finding the student, understanding why that person isn’t at school and then informing the school of that reason.

From there the process for working with that child in an attempt to get them back to school includes Attendance Services, the School, you and any other social services deemed necessary.

For more expert advice on your child’s education, check out our School age: Education section.

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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Thelma Britt

When I worked in Ministry of Education Auckland we had a truancy team of 12 people and a big database connecting the Intermediate Schools with us so that we could check with the High Schools that these people leaving the Intermediate School system were enrolling at High School. The National Government cancelled all Truancy teams around the country. We had found that 30,000 children hadn’t enrolled at High School and had contacted parents and they were nearly back to High School within a couple of years. Christchurch didn’t have a Truancy Team and that explains Boy Racers, Violence, parties like… Read more »

Jarrod Rendle

Yes, it’s a really sad epidemic in this country. Education is one of the most important keys to lifting people out of poverty. But, unfortunately, many kids from impoverished communities just aren’t making it through our school system. In fact, the numbers are so bad it wouldn’t be unfair to call it a systemic failure. Thanks for sharing. — Jarrod

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