Traffic light system, mandatory reporting included in Government's new school attendance action plan

The Government has released details about how it plans to meet its newly released school attendance targets including a new traffic light system and heightened monitoring.  

On Monday Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announced nine new targets for the Government covering key areas such as health, education, crime, employment, housing and climate change.    

Luxon 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." 

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

On Tuesday 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.  

The target aims to improve New Zealand's lagging attendance rate with regular attendance, defined as being in school over 90 percent of the time, declining from 69.5 percent in Term 2 2015 to 39.9 percent in Term 2 2022.  

This compares to England's attendance rates of 75.1 percent in 2022, 70.3 percent for the USA, and 49.9 percent for Australia.   

"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," Seymour said.  

"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. 

"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." 

On Tuesday Seymour announced several new measures to improve attendance including:  

  • Mandating daily reporting of attendance data by term 1 2025  
  • Developing a Traffic Light System to set out the requirements and expectations for parents, schools, and the Ministry at different stages of a student's attendance, with clear obligations for when a student is not attending 
  • Making attendance a strategic priority for school boards so they have clear expectations to focus on minimising disruption to students 
  • Using improved data and analysis to distinguish the drivers of non-attendance and targeting interventions, particularly for the chronic non-attenders or students that are now not enrolled. 

Seymour said the initiatives will require data improvements, analysis and the development of advice to inform potential regulatory changes.   

"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." 

The changes are in addition to changes already being implemented to improve attendance including:  

  • Starting publishing of attendance data weekly from the second week of Term 2, 2024 
  • Rolling out a communications campaign to improve awareness of the importance of students attending school from Term 2 2024 
  • Updating public health guidance to help schools and parents decide if a student is well enough to attend school 
  • Clarifying expectations around attendance to school boards. 

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.