Auckland high schools see varied attendance in first week back

By John Gerritsen for RNZ

Auckland principals are reporting a mixed turnout as schools reopen for the year.

They say some older teenagers have not returned to class in some areas but they are pleasantly surprised by the turnout this week.

Ormiston Senior College principal Diana Patience said attendance was 87 percent on the first day all year groups were back at her school this week.

She said it was clear students were happy to be back.

"The buzz in the school yesterday was tremendous. It was the first time for nearly six months that the school was full. We left last August and some came back in November, but not enough so yesterday was a great day for the school," she said.

Macleans College principal Steve Hargreaves said attendance at his school was in the high 90s this week.

"Attendance is really, really good. We are pleasantly surprised at the rate of student attendance and the mood actually. It's really easy to tell that students are thrilled to be back on campus, thrilled to be back among their peers, learning face-to-face and enjoying one another's company," he said.

Hargreaves said students and teachers were putting the threat of Covid to the back of their minds.

Several in Auckland have already had cases, prompting some students and teachers to isolate.

That happened to Otahuhu College last week and the principal Neil Watson said worry about catching Covid might be keeping some students away this week.

"Attendance is a challenge. We're up around the 80 percent mark at the moment. We want to get that up to the 90s so it's a matter of finding out where students are and what they're up to and persuading them and their families that it's good to be back at school," he said.

As well as Covid, principals are worried last year's disrupted learning has prompted some teenagers to give up on their schooling prematurely.

Watson said usually all of his Year 12 students come back for Year 13 but this year nearly 10 percent have not returned.

"I think most of them are actually working and [we're] looking at how we can either get back to school so they get the qualifications they need or we make sure they have got good employment," he said.

"To be honest the start of the year is usually a bit like this, we work out who's decided to come back and who hasn't. Without having seen some kids since August last year there are some challenges involved."

James Cook High School principal Grant McMillan said his school was also missing a few senior students, but others who were planning to leave had come back to school after all.

"We have a small number who are heading to the workforce early but there's also a number of students to change their course because the tertiary qualification they were heading towards is probably no longer that viable for them," he said.

McMillan said for example some students had decided not to pursue a career in tourism and hospitality because they doubted they would find work.

He said attendance at the school was between 85 and 90 percent.