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Schools struggling to keep on top of truancy

Current truancy services are inadequate, according to Wairarapa principals.
Until a few months ago, a single officer served primary, intermediate and high schools for Wairarapa and Taruau, from Dannevirke High to Pirinoa School. That officer had since moved on.
While schools can hire attendance officers in-house, the Ministry of Education [MoE] contracts regional attendance services to which any school can refer students. The contractors for Wairarapa and Tararua are Hawke’s Bay-based Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga Trust.
Solway School principal Mark Bridges said that staff members collected children or drove them home at his school.
“It is of pressing urgency that we have not just personnel in Wairarapa, but a service that’s focussed in Wairarapa, not Hawke’s Bay.”
Bridges said the region would have enough work to justify a local officer.
Lakeview School principal Tim Nelson said MoE had “utterly and completely underfunded” the service.
Funding of $790,000 was made available for the Wellington region.
Principals in Masterton are preparing to apply for funding for a more localised service.
“It’s absolute madness, the lack of support we’ve had. There has been a lot of talking, but talk needs to be followed by hard, tangible action.
“An excellent tangible action would be to have truancy officers supporting schools and families more locally,” Nelson said.
The regional truancy officer from Te Taniwha o Heretaunga left because Kuranui College hired them as the in-house student whanau liaison.
Principal Simon Fuller said the school needed more support in South Wairarapa.
Kuranui’s average attendance is about 85 per cent, about 4 per cent lower than it usual.
Regular attendance [defined by MoE as nine days out of ten at school] has decreased at Kuranui by about 20 per cent from previous years.
“The kids are still coming, just not necessarily those nine days out of 10, which the ministry record as regular attendance,” Fuller said.
Kuranui hired a student whanau liaison to support students through transitions between classes and ensure they get to where they need to be on time and have the correct uniform and equipment.
“They also chronic truants, sometimes bringing them to school, sitting down with families to remove some of those barriers or picking students up when they might miss the bus.
There are different levels of what a truancy officer will do.” Fuller said.
Fuller said that attendance services were “massively underfunded and under-resourced.”
Lakeview School was considering hiring an attendance officer themselves, but it would cost thousands and thousands of dollars
“It would be incredibly good if MoE could identify the need and fund more local truancy officers directly,” Nelson said.
Sean Teddy, hautu [leader] operations and integration at MoE said attendance services work with students, family, and schools “to address the root causes of non-attendance, which are often diverse and complex.
“Services must work within the context of the family and whanau to achieve a sustainable return to school.”
He said MoE was redesigning the attendance service to bring services closer to schools.
The Times-Age asked Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga Trust if they thought the situation was adequate. They declined to comment.

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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