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Government late to class on truancy

Makoura College is looking to hire its own “attendance officer” rather than wait for help from the Ministry of Education [MoE].

Minister of Education Jan Tinetti announced a $74 million attendance services package to fund 82 new attendance officers across New Zealand. Tinetti said the decline in school attendance began in 2015, but the covid pandemic exacerbated the issue.

In term 3 of 2022, only 46 per cent of students met the criteria for regular attendance [being at school 90 per cent of the time].

Several Wairarapa Schools have already taken matters into their own hands to address the issue.

Makoura College’s board of trustees is planning to hire an attendance office, or whanau liaison, to help get their students back to class, acting principal Lisl Prendergast has told the Times-Age.

Prendergast said there is a “huge need” for increased attendance services.

“While kids are at home, they’re not learning, and they’re contributing to juvenile crime, which is even worse and more depressing.” Makoura’s new attendance officer will be able to work alongside each student to help get them re-engaged in school, Prendergast said.

It’s an initiative that Masterton Intermediate School, Lakeview School, and Kuranui College have already undertaken.

At the start of this term, Masterton Intermediate and Lakeview jointly funded an attendance programme for their schools, while Kuranui started its programme the year before.

Masterton Intermediate School principal Russell Thompson said the programme is already making a measurable difference in the first 15 days of the school year.

However, Ministry of Education [MoE] operations and integration leader Sean Teddy said in-school initiatives will not be eligible for funding from the new package.

Instead, the new attendance officers will be centrally funded and assigned to a group or area of schools.

Teddy could not confirm whether the new funding would include a dedicated Wairarapa officer. The organisation currently contracted to provide attendance services to Wairarapa is based in Hastings.

Wairarapa College principal Matt White said his school used the ministry contracted attendance officer. However, he said there was significant demand from Wairarapa schools for the newly expanded services.

He said he currently unable to tell whether the new funding will be effective.

There are 800,000 school students in New Zealand and 82 new attendance officers, so the policy funds one new attendance officer for every 10,000 students.

There are 7500 students in Wairarapa, so the region might get one if officers are allocated evenly.

Prendergast said MoE would get better results by giving schools the money.

“They should give the money to schools to get their own attendance people.”

“That would give schools ownership of it, they can employ somebody that’s suitable for their community, and they can keep an eye on whether they’re doing the job,” Prendergast said.

“There’s no point in having outside agencies who sit down there and do nothing, and we’ve got no control over them.

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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