Principal slams Government's new truancy plan as useless, calls for cross-party action

A Whangārei principal is slamming David Seymour's newly announced attendance action plan saying it is " about as useful as tits on a bull".   

On Tuesday, the Government revealed details of how it plans to meet its target of 80 percent of students being present for more than 90 percent of the school term.     

Seymour is the lead minister in charge of the target and said the "truancy crisis" must be fixed.    

On Tuesday Seymour announced several new measures to improve attendance including mandatory daily reporting of attendance data, a traffic light system, making attendance a strategic priority for school boards and using improved data and analysis to distinguish the drivers of non-attendance to target interventions.    

The new measures are in addition to changes already being implemented including a national campaign highlighting the importance of attendance, updating public health guidance about when kids should stay home and clarifying attendance expectations to school boards.  

But the plan isn't being welcomed by Hora Hora School principal Pat Newman, who has more than 50 years of experience in education.   

Newman, a former Labour Party candidate, said the action plan is not going to achieve anything.   

"I don't know if you could call it a plan... This thing is about as useful as tits on a bull," Newman told Newshub Late on Tuesday.   

"It's not going to do anything, and it shows this guy who thinks he knows everything knows bugger all nothing."  

Newman said publishing attendance results is all well and good, but he questions who is actually going to read them.   

"The [parents] we are trying to target don't actually go look at school newspapers or websites or anywhere else."  

The principal also lambasted the health advice changes questioning whether it would mean sick children would start showing up to school.   

"Does that mean we are going to have classrooms full of kids with gooby noses? We know if children have a cold they infect other children and we know they infect teachers. I mean it's crazy."  

David Seymour is the lead minister for the attendance target.
David Seymour is the lead minister for the attendance target. Photo credit: Newshub

Newman accused Seymour of blaming educators for the issue when really successive governments, including the current one, are at fault.   

"He's blaming the boards and principals and schools for the problem we have, yet he's the one that says, 'Listen we are going to cut lunches'. How the hell is that going to get people into school? He says, 'We are going to cut back the public transport subsidies'. How the hell is that going to get people into schools?   

"He talks about minimising disruptions to kids, do you know the biggest disruption to kids over my 51 years of being a principal has been that every two to three years we have a new political master who thinks they know it all and comes in and changes everything we've been trying to bed down.  

"Then they wonder why the kids aren't there, they wonder why no one wants to go into teaching, they wonder why our kids are failing. It's not the schools, it's not the teachers, it's the bloody politicians who will not sit down and work out a plan with the sector so that we have a direction for 10 or 20 years and instead we get a change every two to three years.   

Newman said he's "angry" because he sees the effects of this on kids and teachers, especially through lack of resourcing.  

He also hit out at Seymour's suggestion if we don't fix truancy there will be an "80-year-long shadow of people who missed out on education when they were young, are less able to work, less able to participate in society, and more likely to be on benefits" 

"What planet is the guy on? Newman questioned. "That's not in the future – that's what we are dealing with now. That's what we need the help for not tinkering around with systems and ideas that he thinks he can impose and it will all work and we will jump up and down saying, 'Oh yes all-knowing Minister'.   

Seymour and Luxon announced the details on Tuesday saying the Government is taking action to fix the issue. 

"This Government is making reporting and enforcement action to reduce non-attendance and truancy a high priority. This is part of the government's target of ensuring 80 percent of students are present for more than 90 percent of the term by 2030," Seymour said.  

"A key focus is getting a better understanding of the drivers of non-attendance through data. The more we define the problems the more effectively interventions can be targeted."  

Luxon meanwhile said the targets deliver on the Government's three key promises to rebuild the economy, restore law and order, and deliver better public services.  

He said despite "great progress" New Zealand has "gone backwards" which is why the targets are being reintroduced.  

"These targets are not going to be easy to achieve. But we're not here to do what is easy - we're here to do what is needed to reduce crime, shorten healthcare wait times and improve educational achievement, no matter how difficult."  

He said the Government is "so focused on rebuilding the economy" so it can "afford to invest in the public services that New Zealanders deserve".  

Attendance is one of the Government's nine new targets which include shorter stays in emergency departments, shorter wait times for (elective) treatment, reduced child and youth offending, reduced violent crime, fewer people on the Jobseeker Support Benefit, more students at expected curriculum levels, fewer people in emergency housing and reduced net greenhouse gas emissions.