Truancy: David Seymour says Government to give public health advice around sending sick children to school

The Government will be providing public advice around sickness and whether children are well enough to attend school "to start rebalancing" health and education, David Seymour says. 

Speaking to Newshub on Tuesday, the Associate Education Minister said New Zealand had several years of "stay home, save lives and almost everything comes after health" during COVID-19. 

"Of course, health's important, of course you've got to be responsible - but you don't keep people home under all circumstances. Sometimes you've got to make a call between health and education, and New Zealand's Government needs to bring more balance back in that regard." 

He said the proprotion of children absent from school citing sickness had "roughly" doubled in the past few years. 

Seymour said that sickness "tends to often be a sniffle or a cold". 

"As we move out of a COVID period - or have moved out of a COVID period - we've got to look at other challenges we face like not enough kids going to school." 

The ACT Party leader told Newshub "it's always going to be a balance". 

"You might, for example, ask yourself, 'Do you have the ability to test and know in time?' If you do and you know that your kid's got COVID, of course you shouldn't send them to school," he said. 

"On the other hand, it's not clear that the doubling of kids missing school due to health reasons is justified by actual health or caused by actual fears during the COVID time but aren't so relevant today." 

However, the Opposition has slammed the idea. Labour Party deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni worried the Government wasn't taking everything into consideration. 

"I find it... interesting that David Seymour is looking to be the person that determines what criteria should be used for kids to not be at school because of sickness," she told AM on Wednesday. 

"At the end of the day, as parents, it's our responsibility to make that decision." 

Sepuloni said she didn't "appreciate or think it's necessary for the Government to get involved to the extent they are trying to". 

"They are not the doctors, they are not the parents and so, therefore, not the ones who get to determine whether or not they're well enough to be at school. 

"Commonsense has to prevail and, as parents... we need to be trusted to make those decisions. 

"I really don't understand how the Government think that they could come up with guidelines that would capture every scenario with respect to sickness and kids needing to take time off school." 

The Government was overstepping the mark, Sepuloni said. 

"It is case by case and parents and schools need to make those decisions based on the child and what they see in front of them at the time." 

Under the Government's school attendance "action plan", the Coalition would look at fines for parents of truant students, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon confirmed to AM on Tuesday. 

But, if parents couldn't afford the fine, they wouldn't be slapped with one, Seymour has pledged. 

However, Labour education spokesperson Jan Tinetti said of a fines system: "It has been tried here in New Zealand... it has never worked."