Concern at new truancy service

Tararua principals are worried a change of the district's truancy service provider is letting some students slip through the cracks.

The Ministry of Education awarded the contract to deliver its new School Attendance Service to Hastings organisation Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga last December.

The service was meant to start on February 1, but Dannevirke High School principal Dawid de Villiers said the organisation is yet to put forward an officer in school tracking absent students.

"We're on the back foot already. It's week four of the term and we still don't have a fully functional service."

The school has made several referrals this year, but had little response from the agency, Dr de Villiers said.

"The bottom line is there is no truancy officer in our immediate area. We don't even know where that person is going to be stationed, we've got no indication where or who they are . . . and we get the feeling that what we see now is the type of service we're going to get."

The Tararua District Truancy Services, the previous provider in Tararua, was managed by Dannevirke High School and funded by the ministry.

"What we used to have here was a truancy officer that was very proactive, and if a student was truant we'd have. . . that child back at school within half an hour, or sometimes within 10 minutes."

Tararua College principal Glynis De Castro said she had the same apprehensions.

"We found it very convenient in the past to ring someone and have the truant students delivered to school."

Dannevirke High School was visited by an acting officer outlining the service it would provide and Tararua College received a letter from Te Taiwhenua along a similar vein.

Both principals are concerned at the repercussions of extended absences on students' education.

"If we have the students in, and find out why they are truant, then we can actually do something about that, encouraging them to be in school and achieving," Miss De Castro said.

Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga general manager Nathan Harrington said it was difficult to recruit people for the role during the holiday period, and although the organisation had "an understanding" with the Ministry of Education of a contract, it was not finalised until recently.

Te Taiwhenua chief executive Alayna Watene said all of Tararua's referrals had been "acted on, resolved and the cases since closed", and there was no issue.

"The service has been, with the time constraints, the recruitment processes and with our intention to provide, the best we can provide with the resources available and I think we've done a good job.

"We would like to think the community at large would have a sense of ownership with young people and the new attendance services [are] a resource that can be relied on and assist in whatever is required to get young people into education."

Ms Watene said the organisation is yet to be paid for the service it's providing, but did it anyway.

"We've just rolled up our sleeves with masses of goodwill, gone out on a limb and sourced the best for the communities of interest, and we're doing the best we can in the 21 days we've been on the road."

The recruitment of Tararua's new truancy officer has been finalised and a Dannevirke-based worker is due to start on March 11, Ms Watene said.

A ministry spokeswoman said the change in systems was motivated by a lack of synergy between various systems and by "some students falling between the gaps".

"The ministry is aligning the new service to national priorities and targets by being more responsive to priority groups who are over-represented in the unjustified absence and non-achievement statistics [like] Maori and Pasifika learners . . . and low decile schools."

There have been "some minor issues" with the launch of the service, she said, but the ministry is "confident" that this will improve in time.

The ministry previously funded about $35,000 a year for the old district truancy component of the service, with the non-enrolled truancy service managed by another provider.

Now it funds Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga about $470,000 per annum to cover the Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa, including Tararua schools, truancy services.

Manawatu Standard