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School truancy- Act wants on-the-spot fines for parents

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 27 Nov 2022, 4:49pm
Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

School truancy- Act wants on-the-spot fines for parents

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 27 Nov 2022, 4:49pm

The Act Party is proposing on-the-spot fines, akin to speeding tickets, for parents of children deemed chronically absent from school.

The idea is part of its policy launched today to address what it calls the “Truancy Crisis”.

The National Party has also shown an interest in similar legislation, while the Government has said such punitive approaches had been tried in the past and failed.

Act’s policy launch comes as school attendance rates reach record low levels amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

While attendance rates have been steadily reducing since 2015, rising rates of Covid-19 and public health messaging for people to stay home saw a record low 40 per cent of students regularly attend school in term 2 (defined as missing no more than one day of school every fornight).

The overall figures were down from 57.7 per cent in term 2 2019 pre-Covid, 64.2 per cent in 2020 and 59.7 per cent in 2021. In term 1 this year it was 46 per cent.

At the same time, rates of irregular absence, moderate absence, and chronic absence increased and were at their highest since 2011.

Act Party education spokesman Chris Baillie, a former teacher, said the education system has been “declining” for years and Labour’s goal of 70 per cent attendance by 2024 was “uninspiring”.

Act’s policy includes five ideas to get children back in the classroom regularly. This includes daily national attendance reporting, and whether any absence was justified or unjustified. The Ministry would publish this daily attendance in building a national focus on the issue.

Act would also change the law to make it easier to fine parents for poor attendance from their children.

Act says that currently parents cannot be fined for student non-attendance without a court conviction, but they can be fined on the spot for speeding to school.

Act would change the Education and Training Act to allow the Ministry of Education to introduce an infringement notice regime for truancy. They would ensure police could work with schools on truants and take children they see out of school during school hours to either the school or home.

Act also proposed a traffic light system for unjustified attendance at schools.

At the red setting, more than 30 per cent truant, the student would be referred to the Ministry of Education, which would decide whether to fine parents and/or refer to police.

Schools would also receive funding to deal with poor attendance, weighted through the Equity Index so schools with more vulnerable student populations would receive more funding.

The funds would come from the $38.5 million spent annually on truancy services.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon has also been critical about New Zealand’s poor school attendance rates, laying blame at parents and school leaders and also not ruling out a punitive approach including fines.

Their truancy policy would be announced next year.

Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti has been approached for comment.

She has previously said fines had been tried and not succeeded in the past.

“We need to raise awareness of how important education is I would really like parents to understand that education is the ability for people to have choices. And for the children to have choices. We all need to understand that this is a society response.”

Tinetti has previously said term 2 data this year was an “outlier” due to the Covid outbreak and with public health messaging encouraging people to stay home if they were sick or a contact.

On wider issues including the massive inequities, Tinetti said their Attendance Strategy, launched this year was designed to re-engage students and the Government was on track to meet the first target of 70 per cent regular attendance by next year, and 75 per cent by 2026.

Tinetti said she did not believe a punitive approach was needed for parents that kept their children home.

Meanwhile, an Education Review Office report released this month also warned New Zealand had worse school attendance than other English-speaking countries and many parents didn’t care if their children missed classes.



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