National MP Paul Goldsmith fears 'truancy crisis' as almost a third of kids aren't turning up to school

With almost a third of children not turning up to school regularly, the National Party says New Zealand has a truancy crisis on its hands - and it's even worse for decile 1 kids, where not even half are making it to class frequently.

South Auckland kids know if they wave Mandy Su'a down, they can get a ride to school. She works with families of children struggling to get to class. Sometimes it's because they can't afford soap and don't have clean clothes.

"We'll go pick them up in our little Swifts and off we go," the attendance officer told Newshub. 

Su'a works in and with schools, rather than attendance services being outsourced. It's a pilot programme showing success, and she wants it expanded to every school.

"I would encourage New Zealanders to think a little differently - that this is not a choice, this is a true issue that we have," she says. "It is not a brown skin issue - this is a New Zealand issue."

At Greenmeadows Intermediate in Manurewa, free lunches have improved attendance. But that's up against deepening poverty and skyrocketing rents, forcing families out of their homes.

"There's a whole realm of issues going on in a family that makes it really, really hard for them to prioritise getting their kids to school," says school principal Cathy Chalmers. 

School attendance across the country is falling. In term 1 2019, about 73 percent of kids went regularly - that's being in class more than 90 percent of the term. 

Compare that to term 1 this year: regular attendance was down to 68 percent. That's more than 260,000 children not in school as much as they need to be.

"I think we've got a truancy crisis in this country," National's education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith told Newshub. 

For the children who are non-attending, "attendance is a real crisis", says Chalmers. 

It's even worse at decile 1 schools - less than half the students attend regularly. And Newshub can reveal 70 schools didn't give the Ministry of Education any data for any term last year.

"I think there's a complacency in the Government around education, generally," Goldsmith says. 

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti told Newshub it's on her radar. 

"It is a big issue and it's one that we're very serious about tackling.

The Education Select Committee recently launched an inquiry into falling attendance rates, and $20 million in the Budget went to attendance services.

But as this week's Child Poverty Action Group report confirmed, kids missing out on class is a symptom of much wider poverty problems.