Only 38 per cent of Kawerau students at school regularly

Author
Simon Collins, NZ Herald,
Section
Education,
Publish Date
Thursday, 31 January 2019, 6:47PM
Only 38 per cent of students in the timber mill town of Kawerau (above) attend school "regularly", the lowest rate in the country. (Photo / File)
Only 38 per cent of students in the timber mill town of Kawerau (above) attend school "regularly", the lowest rate in the country. (Photo / File)

Kawerau's truancy service wants schools to stop asking parents for money, after the town again clocked up the country's lowest rate of regular school attendance - just 38 per cent.

School attendance has improved slightly in the latest national Ministry of Education statistics, halting a sharp decline over the previous two years.

Regular attendance, defined as missing fewer than five out of the 49 school days in the second term, dropped nationally from 69.5 per cent in 2015 to a low of 63 per cent in 2017, and has recovered marginally to 63.8 per cent last year.

But it still falls sharply with declining income, from 73 per cent attending regularly in the richest tenth of the country to 47 per cent in the poorest tenth.

Kawerau, which historically has had the country's highest rate of sole parenthood and welfare dependency, again has the lowest rate of regular school attendance at 38 per cent - although that was an improvement from just 35 per cent in 2017.

The Eastbay REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme), which took over the school attendance service for Kawerau late last year, pointed to the costs of sending children to school.

"School is expensive - the cost of uniforms, donations, as well as the extra-curricular camps and what have you," said Lori Fretwell, the agency's whānau engagement co-ordinator.

"If the child isn't engaged, if they can't get in the rugby team because they can't afford to pay for the boots or the fees or whatever, then it's easy not to attend, and then they fall behind and the child starts to feel dumb.

"What we try to do is to find that point of engagement, something that sparks a light in the child, whether that be dance or drama or sport or arts or whatever it might be."

Fretwell said she worked with charities such as Variety and KidsCan to help families out with rugby boots or whatever a child needed, and then worked with schools to support the family.

"The more positive relationship a family has with the school, the better," she said.

"That means they can come into the school without feeling judged or pressured or anything being asked of them, such as asking for money."

The statistics show that the main reason for children missing a few days in the term was sickness, but sickness accounted for fewer than half of all absences for children who missed more than five days.

"Chronic absence", defined as missing at least 15 days in the term, was even more strongly associated with low income, worsening steadily from just 3 per cent of students in the richest tenth of schools up to 13 per cent in the poorest tenth,

Ten per cent of all Māori and Pacific students nationally were "chronically absent", compared with 4 per cent of European and Asian students.

Te Tai Tokerau (Northland), the education region with the highest proportion of Māori, also had the highest proportion of "chronic absence" (10 per cent).

Peter Thomas of Ngāpuhi Iwi Social Services, which runs Northland's school attendance service, said truancy was "a symptom of other issues, i.e. poverty, unemployment, prisons and social/health issues impacting on whānau":.

"Te Taitokerau Attendance Services under the umbrella of Ngāpuhi Iwi Social Services continues to work closely with our own subsidiary within whānau care and in collaboration with local NGO's and ministry departments to address the wider issues of our rohe (area)," he said.

"Te Taitokerau Attendance Services are pleased to see these statistics acknowledge the hard graft each and every service is providing for our tamariki."

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