Principal says free school lunches would help attendance after Govt reveals absenteeism action plan

The Government has revealed its plan to turn around what it's calling the attendance crisis.

Schools will be required to publish attendance data daily and a traffic light system is being developed to monitor students' attendance records.

A red light could mean fines for parents or other interventions if there are more complex reasons students are missing school.

But an educational leader says school lunches are part of the attendance solution.

On Tuesday the Prime Minister's focus was to eradicate abysmal attendance. Only 46 percent of school pupils attended classes regularly in term three last year.

"We've got a clear goal, we want 80 percent of kids at school 90 percent of the time by 2030," Christopher Luxon said.

The first step to managing the problem is to measure it. Attendance data will soon be published weekly then starting next year daily reporting, COVID-style.

"We believe that educational attendance is now a crisis with similar long-term effects for New Zealand," said Associate Minister of Education David Seymour.

"Weekly reporting is fine but we don't necessarily have all the answers to why someone was away within the 24-hour timeframe. It normally takes us two or three days to get that data accurately recorded so for me day by day might be a little bit more granular," said Vaughan Couillault, who's the Papatoetoe High School principal and president of the Secondary Principals' Association. 

The COVID-19 crisis approach doesn't stop at the data. The longer-term plan is to bring back a traffic light system. 

But the red light response will look different to students in different situations.

"Some parents aren't sending their kids to school because they have no money and they're sending their kids out to work. Others are not sending their kids to school because they do have enough money but they wanted to get a cheaper airfare to Fiji in the last week of term," Seymour said.

"Now obviously in those two cases there's going to be a different approach from the Government."

While Seymour wants to keep the COVID-19 era's tools, he wants to drop the era's attitude to staying home when you're sick.

"We've seen the focus on education fall down the totem pole of national priorities."

Couillault said school lunches are part of the attendance solution.

"It's not the only thing - so you're not going to go from 55 percent regularly attending to 80 percent regularly attending overnight, but it is certainly a contributing factor when you don't have to worry about nutritional poverty," he said.

The Education Ministry's latest evidence shows for underserved students there was a 1.6 percent improvement in attendance in schools with lunches.

That equated to an additional three days a year - on average - of school.

Seymour has previously said he wants to halve funding, but said on Tuesday that didn't mean carving back access to lunches.

"There's a very strong chance that it will be exactly the same kids but there's also a strong chance that once you come down to surplus and wastage you find actually we can do more for kids in greater need if we have a slightly different set of kids," he said.

Because cuts to a programme that drives attendance seem counterintuitive.