Truancy service slammed for being unprofessional

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 06/05/2014

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A Ministry of Education-employed truancy provider has been slated as unprofessional after categorising struggling school children as "dummies", "brats", "bullies" and "CYF kids".

The derogatory labelling has "disappointed" the ministry and the Manawatu Primary Principals' Association, prompting an apology from the service provider.

The Government launched its $9.1 million Integrated Attendance Service last year to tackle chronic truancy. Datacom, an information technology services company, was one of 11 organisations contracted to cover 18 areas throughout the country.

The company sub-contracts 15 truancy service providers in six areas - Manawatu-Horowhenua, Central Plateau (which includes Rangitikei and Ruapehu), Whanganui, Tauranga, Eastern Bay of Plenty and Otago-Southland.

Datacom runs a system called ecase - every child attending school every day - which uses iPads and a purpose-built website to give truancy officers immediate access to information about the students skipping school and how to help.

A quarterly report sent to the ministry, and obtained under the Official Information Act, showed Datacom classified truants according to four categories: "A. The bullied, B. The dummies, C. The brats, D. CYF kids", or children on Child, Youth and Family services.

Manawatu Primary Principals' Association head David Reardon said for a provider aiming to support students and schools it was a shame to lower the standards and estimation of the sector with disparaging statements.

"Those terms are not welcome in the education environment and they're very unprofessional.

"Derogatory labels are not going to assist at all and if that kind of terminology is used within education circles, no matter who it is, we're all going to get tarnished with that same brush.

"We're suitably unimpressed - those kinds of comments and written remarks undo all the good work that our truancy officers do."

Ministerial manager Sean Teddy said Datacom had been spoken to about the remarks and had been sent a "formal" letter outlining discontent. "The ministry was greatly concerned about the commentary in reference to students referred to in their service," he said.

"The provider has given assurance that it won't happen again."

Datacom spokeswoman Erica Lloyd said the wording was regretted and had been removed from the truancy support business.

"The commentary was ill considered and does not in any way reflect the view of our organisation," she said. "We apologise for any disruption this may have caused."

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Other reports from anti-truancy services show mixed results, with performance targets not being met and some principals felt that even 12 months later the system was unworkable.

The ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said it was expected with a new service that some teething problems would occur. "While we have a number of challenges, the service is developing well."

- Manawatu Standard

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