Education Minister Jan Tinetti doesn't know how many attendance officers currently exist in schools as 82 more added

The Education Minister has admitted she knew the state of the country's truancy issue in December, despite the figures only being released on Tuesday. 

It comes after the Government launched a new plan on Tuesday to get young people back in the classroom by creating more attendance officers to chase up truant children.

The plan includes 82 new attendance officers, further investment in the attendance service to support over 3000 more young people and commitment to improve and standardise attendance data.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti told AM new truancy data from the Ministry of Education shows just 46 percent of students went to school regularly in term three last year. 

This comes after 40 percent of Kiwi kids attended school regularly in term two, so the fresh figures only show a slight rise, which Tinetti puts down to flu and sickness. 

"In that term, we do know that nationwide we had a mixture of Omicron and flu but as I said schools worked really hard and when I was going into schools in that term they were saying we've got 93 percent attendance here today," she told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green.  

"We know those figures are the same in Australia as well, that they got hit hard in 2022, so we're looking for a much better 2023." 

Tinetti told AM she saw the data in December but it was only released on Tuesday because it needed to be properly analysed first.

"It's not my data to release, it's the Ministry of Education's and I'm actually really pleased it wasn't released around the 25th of December because it would have looked a little bit cynical. This is too important to get this wrong," she said. 

"When I did get the data ... I made sure that I asked lots of questions about it because one of the issues I saw was we didn't have this breakdown in the justified and unjustified parts of the data."

Education Minister Jan Tinetti.
Education Minister Jan Tinetti. Photo credit: AM

She said 75 percent of the kids not attending school regularly were justified absences. 

Tinetti admitted she didn't know how many attendance officers are currently in New Zealand schools despite announcing 82 more would be added on Tuesday morning LINK. 

"We know we can't put a figure on it because schools do have their own attendance officers. Attendance officers and the job of attendance officers is set in the Education Act and schools can actually employ their own," she said. 

"So what we are doing today is making certain that we've got a set number that goes into those attendance service areas."

She told AM despite not knowing the number of attendance officers she did know the attendance rate of every school in New Zealand. 

Rowandale School Principal Karl Vasau.
Rowandale School Principal Karl Vasau. Photo credit: AM

Rowandale School Principal Karl Vasau told AM later on Tuesday that attendance officers are "worth their weight in gold" but it's about getting the right person in the role. 

"What you need is someone that will enter into a discussion with you, find out what the issues are, liaise and work closely with a school to make sure that you know that that can be bridged and the reasons why that children aren't returning to school or coming to school regularly can be bridged," he said. 

"Then working with agencies right across to try and see that that support is given to you."

Vasau said the best people in attendance roles are people that understand communities.

"The best people for these kinds of jobs are people who are parents who've understood the struggles we have with our own children, getting them out of bed and getting them to school."

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told AM later on Tuesday the reason the Government doesn't know how many attendance officers there are is because of the nature of their contracts.

"We currently contract about 77 different providers, who they employ is up to those providers," Hipkins explained.

"So the providers will be allocated kids who are chronically truant and they have to work with them to get them re-enrolled. They'll employ a mix of different types of people. They might be employing counsellors, they might be employing social workers, they might be employing truancy officers. We don't collect that data. What we collect are the results."

Watch the full interview with Jan Tinetti above.