Poverty the main reason for truancy

Poverty the main reason for truancy

One of the country’s largest truancy services says poverty is one of main reasons some students are bunking or being kept home from school.

The National Urban Maori Authority (NUMA) runs three attendance services that work to get truants back in class in North and West Auckland, Waikato and Wellington. 

Its chief executive Lance Norman says for many families whether or not they get their kids to school comes down to financial barriers.

“A lot of families aren’t able to afford the basics; rent, food, uniforms. So we are seeing a lot of hardship out there and as a consequence going to school is just a lower priority for the families.”

He says having an unwarranted car or no money for petrol can mean the school run isn’t possible.  Mr Norman says even school lunch is beyond the reach of some and parents keep their kids at home rather than risk their children being left out or embarrassed.

Read more - Tracking down truants

He believes our education system is a good one, but there are access barriers.

In the first term of the year NUMA estimates it has given $60,000 in grants to 59 families for school uniforms, stationery and fees. Without the money Mr Norman says the students simply would not have made it to school.

The last Ministry of Education attendance survey in 2014 showed 4.6% -- more than 27,000 students -- were absent from school without a reason in the week surveyed. That’s almost the equivalent of the entire population of the Queenstown-Lakes District disappearing.

That same year, 20,000 chronic truants were referred to attendance services. The Ministry of Education says by the end of 2014, 70 percent of those had returned to school with the help of specialist truancy officers who are skilled at dealing with families under stress.

A Counties Manukau crime prevention manager, Inspector Bruce O’Brien, says not all kids who bunk school end up committing crimes, but a percentage certainly do.

“We see crime between nine o’clock in the morning and three o’clock in the afternoon, and it is usually burglaries and car crime where we come across those students.”

“They drop out of school and their prospects as adults are not good.”

That’s why the Counties Manukau police district is committed to regular truancy operations in conjunction with attendances services that work in their patch.

NUMA’S Lance Norman says international studies link truancy to incarceration rates and without an education some turn to other ways of making money, including crime.

Mr Norman believes there’s a need for a more targeted approach to truancy that focuses resources on our highest risk families.

“Based on the data that we have got I suspect that we are not doing enough, or in fact, categorically, we are not doing enough,” he says.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Education is yet to release the results of its 2015 school attendance survey, but says it will conduct another “snapshot” during one week in June this year.