Fears truancy will reach record highs

ANNA LOREN
Last updated 05:00 01/02/2013
Otara Boards Forum
ANNA LOREN/ Fairfax NZ
TRUANCY SWITCH: Otara Boards Forum CEO Bill Takerei and chairman Maiava Faavae are calling on the Ministry to explain why they have lost the truancy contract for South Auckland schools.

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The number of truants in South Auckland will ''climb to record highs'' now the Otara Boards Forum has lost its truancy contract for the area, its chairman claims.

Maiava Faavae has had to lay off six staff and is pondering the organisation's future after the Ministry of Education announced two other organisations will deliver the new Integrated Attendance Service in the area.

The nationwide service, which will receive $9.1 million in annual funding from the ministry, combines the previous District Truancy Service and the Non-Enrolled Truancy Service.

It aims to raise attendance rates and enrol those who are not enrolled.

It cuts the number of truancy service providers from 76 to 18.

But Faavae and Otara Boards Forum chief executive Bill Takerei said the new service will have dire effects on students not only in South Auckland, but nationwide.

And they are ''baffled'' as to why the forum missed out on the new contract, especially after the part it played in a successful ministry-directed pilot for the new service.

The pilot, which ran from March 2011 to December 2012, received ''regular, positive, glowing'' feedback from the ministry, Takerei said. An evaluation of the pilot rated the forum and pilot partner Datacom's results as ''excellent''.

But a ministry spokesman said those results had no bearing on which organisations were selected for the new contract.

The two organisations awarded the contract for the South Auckland area - Strive Community Trust in Mangere and Manurewa private training establishment Solomon Group - demonstrated ''a stronger connection with the communities they are to serve'', he said.

Takerei rejects that.

''It is arrogant and incorrect of the ministry to suggest that either Strive or Solomon Group have stronger connections in Otara than an Otara provider like Otara Boards Forum,'' he said.

Information released to the forum by the ministry under the Official Information Act shows potential providers were not required to have established relationships with specific schools, district truancy service providers or mana whenua, hapu and iwi in South Auckland.

Alan Lyth, principal of Otara's Bairds Mainfreight Primary School, shares Takerei's concerns.

Bairds Mainfreight is one of more than 90 schools throughout Otara, Papatoetoe, Otahuhu, Mangere and Manurewa that the forum has worked with since 2007.

Lyth has been dealing with it since he became principal four years ago and said it had a wealth of built-up contacts and experience that new providers wouldn't.

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''Our families are delightful but they're an interesting bunch.

''It takes time for them to open up and accept people so it could take the new people a while to come to grips with some of the families,'' he said.

Both Minister of Education Hekia Parata and her former Secretary of Education Lesley Longstone declined to meet forum staff and refused to explain their decision-making process, Takerei said.

The forum has now sent a letter to Prime Minister John Key and said it was prepared to take the case to court.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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