David Seymour grilled on whether rich and poor kids will be treated equally in school attendance crackdown

ACT leader David Seymour has been grilled on whether rich and poor children will be treated equally when it comes to the Government's school attendance crackdown.

It comes after Seymour last week revealed the Ministry of Health will provide advice around sickness and attendance "to start rebalancing" health and education.

Joining the AM panel on Monday, the Associate Education Minister was grilled by Green Party co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick on whether teenagers going on holiday and teenagers forced to work would be treated the same.

"Would it be the case that a young person whose parents were taking them out of private school for a holiday will be treated in the same way, for example, as young people in south Auckland who have been on the record saying they are taking themselves out of school to help put food on the table?" she asked.

"Well, probably not," Seymour responded. 

"The reason for that is that we believe that fining is one of many things the Government may do in order to tackle what is a crisis of attendance." 

He said parents who can afford to pay a fine are more likely to be fined than those who can’t. 

"If you are someone who has the ability to pay, has had many chances, and are just not playing ball with your obligations to make sure that your kids are getting an education when nothing else is stopping you, then a fine could be absolutely the correct remedy". 

On whether kids would still be able to have days off for mental health reasons, Seymour said “in some ways it’s always going to be parental discretion”. 

"If you have clearly breached, on multiple occasions, the obligation that you've got to send your kid to school, then maybe a fine is the right thing to do."

An Employment Relations Authority (ERA) report last year showed 46 percent of parents were happy to keep kids out of school for mental health challenges, 38 percent to avoid bullying and one in 10 because their kids were tired. 

AM host Melissa Chan-Green asked Swarbrick whether there should be better guidelines to ensure those are valid reasons. 

Swarbrick said a recent enquiry into school attendance included recommendations to "ensure that we have the social factors in place, so that every child in this country can go to school and we can remove those inequitable barriers". 

"It recommended, for example, keeping and expanding food in schools, period products in school, to look at transport for our young people."

"If you are in a decile 10 school, your attendance on average in the 2021 statistic, was about 71 percent, it's 40 odd percent at a decile 1," she stressed. "These are the inequities driving these outcomes." 

Swarbrick added "taking a look at the UK" was a good idea. 

"We have to take a look at the UK for example, where they do have these fines in place," she explained. 

"We do see that there are quite across-the-board criticisms of the fact that the fines are inequitable in the way they are applied."