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Almost half of NZ students not attending school regularly, new data suggests

The Government is urging parents to take school attendance seriously after a drop in attendance was reported for 2019.

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New data shows a drop in school attendance last year, with students taking extra-long weekends. Source: 1 NEWS

Ministry of Education data provided voluntarily by 2184 schools for Term 2 last year showed one in five children missed the last day of term and the lowest attendance was on Fridays and Mondays.

Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin says it's not a good look and improvement must be made.

"That Friday, that child might miss the connecting piece to the next piece of learning which puts them behind their peers - it's important," she told 1 NEWS.

"Every day that school is open, children should be at school - it's the message we send to children about how important their education is."

Greenmeadows Intermediate School principal Cathy Chalmers says regular attendance has been declining at her Manurewa school for the last five years.

Students can only miss four days of school a term to maintain regular attendance.

"It's becoming more common for parents to take advantage of cheaper airfares to take holidays during term time," Ms Chalmers says.

"If it's a long weekend we have a much higher number of students away on the Friday of the long weekend as parents take advantage to get away early."

Ms Chalmers says students who don't attend school regularly don't have the opportunity to have consistency in their learning, which is needed to maintain achievement levels.

The data showed 58 per cent of students attended school regularly, compared to 64 per cent in 2018, and 70 per cent in 2015.

"Three-quarters of justified absence cases were reportedly due to illness. Just over half of unjustified absence cases were recorded truancies or unable to be explained," a data summary from the Ministry of Education states.

"Although regular attendance has declined across all demographics since 2015, the largest declines have been seen across year levels 1-8 and among Māori and Pacific students."

All schools will be asked to record attendance data for the whole year to build a better understanding of the issue.

In the meantime, the Government has announced a pilot programme for Kawerau and South Auckland, which sees groups of schools have control over how to deal with truancy in their areas, including the ability to hire local attendance officers.

The decision to change from district attendance officers to contracted providers was made under the previous Government in 2013.

Ms Chalmers says having the contracted organisation not based in the community was an issue, so she supports the new pilot structure.

"It just makes that direct link between schools and the families. It will help build relationships with those families," she says.

"Schools will have ownership over the delivery of the attendance service, which perhaps currently we don't have as much as what we'd like to have."

The pilot has started in Kawerau and will start in April in South Auckland, running through until December 2021.

"This will allow time to collect good information. A full evaluation will be undertaken during 2021," Ministry of Education deputy secretary Katrina Casey told 1 NEWS in a statement.

Decisions on extending the programme will be made after that, she says.