Truant 'no go' areas keeping kids in school

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 09:00 27/07/2013

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Manawatu's truant-free zones appear to be doing their jobs as the latest figures show fewer school children skip school here than their peers in other parts of the country.

Nationally, a total of 24,700, or one in 25 pupils, are off school with no good reason. But in Manawatu-Whanganui that number is consistently lower than the national average.

According to a survey of more than 2000 schools nationwide, the district ranked third in the country last year for the lowest rates of truancy.

The national average showed 3.8 per cent of school pupils were unjustifiably absent last year.

Manawatu-Whanganui, Otago and the Tasman region had the lowest truancy rates in the country, and Northland the highest.

Manawatu-Whanganui's rate had dropped slightly from 3.2 per cent in 2011 to about 2.9 per cent last year.

Just 0.7 per cent of the district's school population were labelled in the Ministry of Education's survey as "frequent truants".

From May last year, Levin's central business district was declared a truant-free zone by businesses and community groups.

Feilding shopowners soon took a similar approach by posting "Truant Freezone Feilding" posters in their windows, showing zero tolerance for kids in their shops during school hours.

Last year the Ministry of Education spent $3.4 million on a new integrated Attendance Service to crack down on unjustified absences.

The $7.8m service resulted in some job cuts as the services were centralised.

Manawatu truancy officer Kerry Searancke retained his role liaising with Feilding Attendance Service, contracted by Lytton Street School and 19 others in the district.

He went on to receive a cut of a $20,000 grant to fund his study into keeping kids in school.

Mr Searancke was unable to be contacted yesterday but Manawatu Mayor Margaret Kouvelis heaped praise on the man keeping Manawatu's kids off the streets.

"He's an amazing person. He builds relationships with young people and it's a hard job. For some reason or other some young people will choose not to be at school and he makes it possible for them to return without coming in with the ‘big stick' approach."

All parents and carers are legally obliged to ensure their children, aged between 6 and 16, go to school each day.

Otherwise they may be fined $30 for every absent day, up to a total of $300, plus court costs, and up to $3000 for subsequent offences.

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- Manawatu Standard

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