Chris Hipkins backs encouraging parents to get kids to school after Christopher Luxon's remarks

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says it is an "absolutely legitimate message" to tell parents to prioritise getting their kids to school.

It comes less than a day after National leader Christopher Luxon received a blasting from the Prime Minister for saying to parents, "you chose to have these kids, you have to wake up at 7am, get your kids to school at 8am", in the wake of poor school attendance data.

Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she didn't agree with Luxon's comments and described them as a "simple view of the world". She said people do need to take responsibility "but just making an argument that that is the solution to every issue that we currently face won't fix the issues". 

School attendance data for Term 2 of 2022 released earlier this month showed just 39.9 percent of students are attending schools and kura regularly, down from 64.2 percent in 2020. 

Regular attendance is defined as attending more than 90 percent of half-days in set a period. For Term 2, that was 10 school weeks. 

However, the Ministry of Education said the numbers have been impacted by a "rapid increase" in COVID-19 cases during the school term, as well as a "substantial rise" in other illness-related absences. 

"This increase in medical absences indicates that students and their parents have chosen to follow Ministry of Health advice for students to stay home if unwell. These absences are recorded as justified and made up 8.6 percent of all term time in Term 2 2022."

Luxon spent last week targeting school leaders for the truancy issue, telling AM some principals are "not focussing as strongly only on getting kids to school as they can". That received backlash from principals, as well as Hipkins, who called for Luxon to apologise.

On Monday, Luxon aimed his frustration at parents and said New Zealand has a "culture of excuses".

"You chose to have these kids, you have to wake up at 7am, get your kids to school at 8am," he said. "You have now got subsidised free lunches, free breakfasts, subsidised period products, subsidised school uniforms.

Asked about Luxon's remarks on Tuesday morning, Hipkins said it is important that parents prioritise getting their children to school. 

"There's no question at all about that. Better probably to focus a bit of attention on getting parents to get their kids to school rather than blaming principals and blaming teachers as he was last week."

He said it is an "absolutely legitimate message" to encourage parents to get their kids to school.

"I'd encourage all parents to think about it this way. If a child's missing one week of school per term, over the course of their life at school, that's a year's worth of learning they're missing out on. So it is important that they're going to school. They're going to school every day unless they're sick."

Hipkins said the Government is seeing more reports of parents taking their kids out of school for family holidays. 

"That is really challenging. It's really challenging for those kids because they do miss out on a lot of learning when that happens."

There are proactive programmes designed to "target and to reach out to those parents and those communities where kids aren't attending school as regularly as they should be", he said.

Hipkins says it's better to focus on parents rather than "blaming principals and blaming teachers".
Hipkins says it's better to focus on parents rather than "blaming principals and blaming teachers". Photo credit: Newshub.

Luxon on Tuesday denied he had a "simple view of the world" as Ardern put it on Monday.

"It's about actually calling everyone to responsibility," he said. 

"We have a major problem in New Zealand. We are living in 2022 as a developed country and only 40 percent of our kids are going to school regularly. 100,000 of our kids are chronically absent from school. We know if we can't get our kids to school, they end up actually participating in ram raids."

Luxon said he was calling on New Zealanders to "step up" and "make sure we give our kids the opportunity to get to school". 

There'll be a sickness component for it, for sure, but it's not explaining the whole problem that's going on here," he said.

"What has been going on is New Zealand has had declining levels of attendance and it's had declining levels of academic achievement in schools as well. 

"I am really worried about education as the thing that I am most worried about the two years I've been here, because if we cannot get our education system world class and hitting in the right direction, we cannot access high paying jobs, we cannot get higher wages and salaries."

The National leader said his party was discussing policy ideas to fix the truancy issue, but won't release them until ahead of the election in the new year.

Luxon said he may have pulled his children out of school for a family holiday in the past, potentially when he was working overseas and back in New Zealand. But he said his family would have sought permission.

Newshub revealed this month that the regions with the highest truancy rates also have the highest ram raid rates. 

Of the nearly 1000 Kiwi kids not attending school for 13 months or more, 527 are in Auckland, 122 are in Waikato and 71 are in Bay of Plenty. They make up 74 percent of the total.

Those are also the three regions with the highest ram raid rates. Between June and September this year, there have been 193 ram raids - 76 in Auckland, 39 in Waikato, and 26 in Bay of Plenty. That makes up 73 percent of that total.