Truancy: Michael Wood says ministry to get 'rocket under them' after attendance officer revelations

Labour's Michael Wood says the Ministry of Education will be getting a "rocket under them" after Newshub revealed just one attendance officer has begun working from funding intended for 82.

The National Party's education spokesperson Erica Stanford says truancy issues are a "really serious problem" and the attendance officer policy had been "quickly scrambled together" by the Government to respond. She wants the Education Minister to "take responsibility".

The $74 million package to establish 82 new attendance officers to help "get young people back into the classroom" was unveiled by the Government in February. It came amid concerns over truancy, with Term 3, 2022 data showing just 46 percent of students regularly attended school.

However, Newshub revealed on Thursday night that months on, just 19 contracts have been signed and just a single officer has started work. 

Education Minister Jan Tinetti told Newshub she was "very disappointed" by that and blamed ministry officials. 

"I have had constant discussions with my officials. There seems to be excuses all the time. I want to see them in schools and I want to see them in front of kids right now."

Appearing on AM on Friday morning, Wood said the package was a "really important investment" to support schools and noted Tinetti would be addressing issues with her ministry.

"The Ministry of Education this week will be getting a rocket under them from the minister to make sure that they get that recruitment happening quickly. This is the kind of the investment that will really support our schools with these kids."

The job description for the officers also shows much of their work involves analysing data to find "moderately absent" students rather than working with chronically absent kids.

Wood said this allows the officers to work with children "getting into a pattern of truancy" rather than "dealing with the hard end" for which there are other resources.

"This is about being more at the top of the cliff with the kids who are starting to get into bad habits and stopping them from becoming chronically truant," he said.

"They are actually able to pick up cases and support schools with those."

One school principal told Newshub that in the Manurewa area she oversees, 103 students have stopped going to school and 64 of them dropped out just last week.

She was offered on the new attendance officers, but turned it down after seeing the job description. 

"I was disappointed. It wasn't what I thought or had been led to believe that these positions would be."

Wood said: "We have to get those kids back in school". 

"These people will be actually able to pick up a caseload and support schools with the right things we need to do to reengage those kids and those families and get them back in."

Stanford is frustrated by the policy, which she believes has been "very poorly thought through".

She said attendance officers are a big part of the solution to getting children back into school.

"All of the international evidence suggests that actually the most beneficial thing you can do is actually drive to their house, pick them up and bring them back to school. That is the the single most effective thing."

"There are a range of other things but actually that job description and in their contract is very clear, these guys are backroom data analysts and they're there to advise schools."

Stanford wants Tinetti herself to take some responsibility.

"Now the minister can say I'm very disappointed about that and things need to get better. She's responsible. This week, she's thrown her own officials working in her office under the bus and now she's thrown the ministry under the bus.

"When will she take responsibility and own up to the fact that this is caused by poor leadership at the very top."

It comes after Newshub also revealed Tinetti's office instructed officials to delay the release of attendance data to be timed with the truancy announcement. Tinetti said she was not aware at the time that her office had done that.