Principals call for more action after David Seymour releases school attendance plan

Principals are calling for more action from the Government after it released details about how it plans to meet its school attendance targets.   

It comes after Associate Education Minister David Seymour released details about how the Government 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.

New Zealand Principals' Federation National President Leanne Otene told Newshub there are some positives in the attendance plan, but there are also some "big questions".   

She welcomes a national campaign and updating health guidance for schools but added board of trustees are already focused on attendance.   

"That is one of the critical pieces of work that a board looks at when they're looking at how the school is doing and monitoring their schools. So that is basically stating a fact that we are already looking at," she told Newshub.  

Otene also questioned the mandatory reporting of attendance data.  

"We already have [that data] and reporting on data will not reduce non-attendance.  

"We need positive actions. We need to be looking at those children who are in the red groups, who we already know about, and saying, 'So how do we support them to go to school?' And putting in some positive supports in schools so that they can make a difference for those kids."  

She said the free school lunch programme and affordable public transport are examples of positive supports in schools that can help improve attendance.   

"If we look at those two latest policies being pulled back which are the lunch in schools program and the public bus subsidies... [those] are barriers to attendance.   

"So it doesn't make sense if you want kids to be coming back to school to be putting in policies that will create barriers for our young people to attend school. 

"We need to be making sure all those barriers are taken away so there is no reason why parents are not sending their children to school or why young people are choosing not to come to school. Not having money for a school bus, not having enough kai at home should not be the reasons why our young people are not attending school."  

Otene said while she agrees with several of the measures, she's confused by the Government's decision to collect data that schools already have. Instead, Otene said she wants to see more tangible action to fix the issue.   

"If you've got all the data in the world, that's not going to make a difference. It's about what those positive supports are going to be and I hear what the Minister is saying about getting that data in order to be able to then do the next phase, which is putting in the supports.  

"But we already have that data [so] let's start putting in some initiatives to support the schools, to be able to get those kids back to school. "  

She said she wants the exact same thing as David Seymour and called on him to consult the NZPF on future actions.  

"We want exactly what the Minister wants and that is every child in school. Every principal across the country will want that also.  

"I've said this before, we need consultation. We are the experts on teaching and learning and we are still not being consulted around these major policies that are going to impact on schools and their ability to be able to get these policies across the line."  

On Tuesday Seymour said a key focus of the plan 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."  

He said addressing truancy is a key priority for the Government.  

"If the truancy crisis isn't addressed 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. That's how serious this is.  

"Almost every aspect of someone's adult life will be defined by the education they receive as a child. If we want better social outcomes, we can't keep ignoring the truancy crisis.   

"An education crisis today will turn into a crime crisis, a vulnerable children crisis, an economic crisis and an inequality crisis tomorrow. We're addressing this by creating a culture where children know if they want to get anywhere in life, they need to get to school first."  

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.