Bid to beat truancy having big effect

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 07:47 02/09/2014

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Horowhenua's bid to tackle truancy is on track, with schools saying the number of students skipping class is shrinking.

The "Every School Day Counts" campaign, aimed at keeping kids in class and cutting back on tardiness, has school principals reporting positive results one year since its inception.

All of the district's 21 schools - 18 primary and three secondary schools - joined the campaign, which encouraged parents to pledge to schools that they would help with attendance and promise to get their children to class on time.

Twelve months on, principals say problems of pupils showing up late, sapping learning time, disrupting classmates or skipping school altogether have reduced and parents are recognising the correlation between strong school attendance and children's academic success.

Waiopehu College principal Barry Petherick said the school took active steps tracking attendance and advocating for students to stay in class.

Students' attendances rates were around 90 per cent for the 190-day school year - a figure that was steadily climbing.

"It is working well, over the last couple of years we have seen a significant improvement in attendance," Petherick said.

Levin Intermediate School's principal Trevor Jeffries said the support from families and the wider community was important to ensure the campaign's success, but other steps, such as making Levin's central business district a truant-free zone in 2012, had also helped.

"The decrease in the number of students frequenting the downtown area, particularly in school uniform, has been very well-managed."

The primary school sector had focused strongly on tardiness, with plans afoot to remind parents of their promise soon.

"It had a really powerful effect when we first launched the programme and we noticed a significant drop in the number of kids signing in 10 or 15 minutes late," he said.

"It's probably fallen off the radar of the community a bit during winter, but it's something we've already planned to make a concerted push on again in term four."

Levin-based social services provider Life to the Max ran the campaign in conjunction with the Horowhenua Principals' Association.

The main message was that unjustified absences were inexcusable, had a detrimental effect on education, and families were responsible for ensuring students were at school when they needed to be.

Principals' Association president, and principal of Shannon School, Murray Powell said the focus was now on keeping the initiative at the front of people's minds and reminding parents of their responsibilities.

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The association was tracking other districts' truancy trials to see what other steps could complement Horowhenua's approach, he said.

The district is part of a two-year government social sector trial, working with a range of ministries, aimed at changing the way some services are delivered in the district.

- Manawatu Standard

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