Students need to be in school

Selwyn Price getting students learning through his Kaiawhina Attendance role.
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When Selwyn Price started as an Attendance Service kaia ¯whina (helper) inMarch 2021, there were 80 cases of absenteeism in local schools.

Two years on and the number of cases the service is dealing with has doubled.

‘‘There has been a general trend upwards of absenteeism across the country over the last decade,’’ Selwyn said.

He works across 26 public schools in the Ashburton District and Geraldine with young people from six to 16-years-old.

There are two types of absences – justified and unjustified. Justified could be for a medical reason, funeral or cultural reason. It is the unjustified absences that the attendance service deals with.

‘‘Term two in2022 was the worst on record for the number of students absent from school due to the arrival of Omicron.’’

‘‘There were two reasons students were absent from school post lockdown. Either they came from homes where someone was immune compromised or they were from homes where for economic reasons they couldn’t afford to have covid.

‘‘It may have be asingle wage earner family or a solo operator and taking a week off wasn’t something they could afford to do. It was more about wha ¯nau health and economic reasons for the absences rather than kids not wanting to go to school.’’

He said following lockdowns some families chose to homeschool their children wanting to avoid the potential ‘‘petri dishes’’ schools could be.

However some who were home-schooling did not following the procedure to do it.

In 2022 the MoE launched an Attendance and Engagement strategy with 13 priorities to increase attendance and engagement. As part of the strategy contracts were ended and re-tended. In the retendering, those like Selwyn are now directly contracted to the MoE.

‘‘They have thrown money into it, $66 million over five years with of half going to 87 new positions,one of which is mine,’’ Selwyn said.

The rest will be to increase capacity and an increase in things like wage costs.

If a student is absent from school, or a young person is not enrolled in a school, a referral is made to the service.

Selwyn will go to the school and get the school’s perspective, data and patterns on the situation before making a home visit to get the family’s perspective.

There is generally a reason or barrier to the absence, Selwyn said.

It could be the student doesn’t have stationery, uniform, shoes, coat, lunch or a covid test kits.

The Attendance Service can help families if they know of the need. ‘‘When it was discovered a five year old didn’t want to go to school as they were quiet anxious about getting on the schools bus, we organised for a neighbouring student to be with them on the bus,’’ Selwyn said.

There have been cases where the service has turned up to work with a family where the parents weren’t aware there young person was absent from school.

The student was putting on their uniform in the morning, sometimes being dropped off at school but wasn’t actually attending.

The highest numbers of absenteeism happen on Monday’s and Friday’s.

‘‘Some of the students who are absent are from the working poor, where parents are working spilt shifts, so there is no parent there in the morning to get the kids up and off to school. When the borders closed it meant extended family were unable to come to New Zealand to help look after the children.’’

If the service can’t get a student to school they will persist.

‘‘I’ll make a nuisance of myself every morning,’’ Selwyn said.

He has carried an eight year child to the car to drive her to school. The service works with parents or caregivers to make the option of staying home less than attractive by suggesting no Wi-Fi, no devices, no contact with friends.

Selwyn said ‘‘for some young people it’s ingrained in them to stay home as their older siblings have done this.’’

A very small number of kids are absent due to bullying or racism. ‘‘Incidents of racism have made going to school uncomfortable for some students but doesn’t stop them going.’’

Ethnic groups are represented proportionally in the statistics for absences in the district. Some cultures have more time away for cultural reason, especially around tangi’s.

Pakeha students face less consequences from home for non attendance than Maori and Pacifica students ‘‘who face the weight of the wider wha ¯nau,’’ if they are absent, Selwyn said.

There are two age groups that feature in the statistics, the five to six year olds who can be anxious about being away from the family and home and the 14-15 year olds. Some of the 15 year olds the service works with aren’t going to achieve at school and want to be out working.

Schools have different thresholds they use before the attendance service is called. In this district there are rural schools that have not made a referral.

The Ashburton District has a higher rate of attendance on average to other places in New Zealand.

– There are two age groups that feature in the statistics, the five to six year olds who can be anxious… and the 14-15 year olds. Some of the 15 year olds the service works with aren’t going to achieve at school and want to be out working.