Principal who doubled attendance rate says Government's new multi-million fund to tackle truancy should go directly to schools

A Christchurch principal who turned his school's abysmal attendance rates around says the Government's new fund to help tackle the country's dire truancy rate should be given directly to schools.

On Tuesday, the Government announced a $74 million education package to tackle record-low school attendance rates.

The plan includes creating 82 new attendance officer roles, improving attendance data and further investment in the Attendance Service, which works with students who are chronically absent or not enrolled.

The announcement comes as the latest school attendance data for term 3 last year showed just 46 percent of students attended school regularly, which is defined as greater than 90 percent of the time. 

But one Christchurch principal who successfully slashed his school's truancy rate said schools would benefit from directly receiving the funding.

When principal Graeme Norman joined Te Kōmanawa Rowley School in Hoon Hay two and a half years ago its attendance rate was shockingly low at around 40 percent.

Since then, Norman and the school's staff have boosted the attendance rate with last year's attendance at 80 percent.

Te Kōmanawa Rowley School principal Graeme Norman.
Te Kōmanawa Rowley School principal Graeme Norman. Photo credit: AM

Speaking to co-host Melissa Chan-Green on AM, Norman said removing barriers to school by providing free food, stationary, uniforms and rides to school enabled them to help get kids in the classroom.

"When children want to be at school they're going to get themselves here but making it easier for our whānau to ensure that they can come to school… Those sorts of things make it so much easier," Norman said.

He said KidsCan, staff and New World Wigram help with providing food for the children, an anonymous donor funds school uniforms and the school has funded staff to transport children who live far away.

"Everybody is the same and treated as an equal here so the kids feel that and that makes them want to come to school," Norman said.

While Te Kōmanawa Rowley School is a small school with a roll of 141, Norman thinks localised funding can make a difference for bigger schools.

"Put the funding into schools and then the schools can use the funding to create a solution that suits their community," he said.

The Government's new package builds on the $88 million package announced last year, consisting of the Regional Response Fund and direct investment into programmes that help young people engage in learning, as well as the ongoing work through the Attendance Strategy and attendance campaigns launched last year.