Vulnerable school students have been labelled "dummies" and
"brats" by a company paid tens of thousands of taxpayer
Datacom is among 11 organisations contracted by the Ministry
of Education to reduce the number of students skipping school
as part of its new Integrated Attendance Service.
Datacom's quarterly report to the ministry noted that it
classified truants in four categories: "A. The bullied, B.
The dummies, C. The brats, D. CYF kids."
The wording has resulted in a rebuke from the ministry.
Head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said a
staff member had met Datacom and she had followed up with a
letter outlining their disappointment.
A Datacom spokeswoman told the Herald their truancy
management team, which works with children aged 13 and 14 in
Bay of Plenty, Manawatu, Southland and Whanganui, regrets the
"ill-considered" wording and apologised.
"In their letter of response they indicated they were echoing
the terminology used by some schools, which was not a
satisfactory explanation ... they have said this was a lapse
of judgment by the employee [responsible]."
Associate Professor Ian Lambie from the University of
Auckland's school of psychology said the labels highlighted a
more serious issue.
"These kids come from families who are disengaged and
damaged, and that probably unfortunately reflects the type of
kids that they [truancy agencies] see."
The quarterly reports to the ministry from anti-truancy
agencies were obtained under the Official Information Act.
Reports from other providers show some performance targets
are not being met.
A November update from Waipareira Trust, which works with
children in north and west Auckland, shows only 14 per cent
of unjustified absence referrals were resolved within 10 days
- the ministry's target is 90 per cent.
A spokesman for the trust said cases were deliberately left
open to form relationships with students' families. This
approach had led to the lowest recidivist truancy rate in the
country, he said.
Other agencies have told ministry officials that targets are
Ms Casey said the volume of referrals by schools had "taken
us all by surprise", and it was "taking some time to bed the
"We think the initial key performance indicators may have
been too stringent given the volumes and the resourcing for
Post-Primary Teachers Association president Angela Roberts
said cases could be very complex, but the reports showed all
was not well.
"What will their point be when they are going to say,
'actually these are no longer teething problems' ... or will
they say, 'it's a problem with the contractor' - like they
did with Novopay."
- By Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald