Cheap flights taking priority over schooling: rector

Otago Boys’ High School rector Richard Hall
Otago Boys’ High School rector Richard Hall
A Dunedin principal says some parents are more interested in taking advantage of cheap flights than sending their children to school.

Act leader David Seymour announced this week the government’s crackdown on truancy would include a weekly report for daily attendance from the Ministry of Education.

There would also be a public education campaign about the importance of attendance, more public health guidance from the Ministry of Health and a "traffic light system" to address persistent truants.

The most recent attendance report from the Ministry of Education said Otago and Southland regular attendance rates dipped by 0.9% in term three from 2022 to 2023.

Despite the drop, Otago and Southland had a regular attendance rate of 48.5% which was the second-highest for regions across New Zealand.

Otago Boys’ High School rector Richard Hall said the school’s biggest issue with attendance was parents who took their children on holidays for family reasons during term time.

He said it could be to see relatives post-Covid-19 and sometimes cheaper flights seemed to take precedence over sending pupils to school.

While things were not perfect, attendance rates in the South being higher than most parts of New Zealand and the hard work of staff in this area should be celebrated, Mr Hall said.

Battling truancy was a community issue but there was no doubt that a lack of enforcement or consequences was a part of the problem.

"Long-term truants know there is a lack of enforcement so they play the long game.

"In the past, the police officer attached to your school had a role here, now that seems to have fallen away."

He personally thought poor attendance started in the years well before pupils made it to secondary school.

"Much of what we see in our school is habituated well before they hit 13 years of age.

"Resources, such as dedicated school counsellors in primary and intermediate schools, could be a step forward."

St Hilda’s Collegiate principal Jackie Barron said she believed the lunches in schools programme was fundamental to improving attendance rates.

She came to this conclusion after speaking to other Otago and Southland principals when she was working as a leadership adviser for Te Mahau, an arm of the Ministry of Education that provides services and support for education staff.

The Otago Daily Times did not receive a response from several other principals contacted with queries about the issue.

Minister for Education Erica Stanford told the ODT last week New Zealand was far behind other countries that were dealing with very similar issues.

Those included poverty, the cost of living and coming back from Covid-19.

She said the change in parents’ attitudes during Covid-19 needed to be overcome.

"We have seen, during Covid, any little cough or cold or snivel meant keep your children at home.

"But we've seen in countries like the UK, where they've had a reset of expectations now, that Covid is no longer an issue, going back to what it used to be."