Truancy contracts bad news for 150 officers

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2012

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Education

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More than 150 truancy officers may lose their jobs as the Education Ministry takes truancy services from schools' hands.

But an extra $3.4 million a year will be pumped into a new Attendance Service, to replace the current model the ministry says allows some pupils to fall through the gaps.

At the end of this year, the 153 truancy officers employed by 76 local schools and not-for-profit organisations will no longer be contracted, as the ministry moves to disestablish New Zealand's two truancy providers.

The District Truancy Service and Non-Enrolled Truancy Service, run from local schools and the ministry respectively, will be replaced by a countrywide Attendance Service next year.

The contract to run the service in 18 locations, worth $7.8 million a year, is being tendered by the ministry – and it has been confirmed that at least one location is being chased by IT company Datacom.

Datacom runs the Non-Enrolled Truancy Service, which deals with chronic absences of longer than 20 days.

Education Ministry senior manager Marilyn Scott said it was seeking "suitably qualified and capable organisations", and it was expected that new providers would want to continue to work with existing truancy officers, schools and interested parties.

An extra $3.4m a year would go towards the service and, while the number of attendance officers would be determined by the new providers, "it was expected more frontline staff will be engaged".

An unjustified absence rate of 4 per cent had been relatively steady since 2006, with 29,000 kids absent from school a day. A 2009 ministry appraisal of truancy services said they were not working efficiently. But school principals and truancy officers said they feared that centralising the service and handing contracts to private companies would cause irreparable damage – and worsen the truancy problem.

Porirua College principal Susanne Jungerson said the school was home to two truancy officers who served 33 schools in the Porirua area.

The new Attendance Service would cover Porirua, Wellington, Hutt Valley, and the Kapiti Coast. "We know that what works is school-based people who build networks in the local community – so somebody based in Wellington is really not going to do much up here. I'm hoping the people who get the contract will look to local solutions."

Feilding Truancy Service chairman and Lytton St School principal Geoff Lovegrove said its provider was likely to be Datacom, but it hoped to work closely with the company and keep its local truancy officer.

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"It just seems like part of the grand plan of government to centralise more things and take away community control," Mr Lovegrove said.

Central Taranaki Districts truancy officer Stephen Dyer, who has been in the role for 13 years, said his colleagues were sick of being mucked around and many had already begun to apply for other jobs. "It's absolutely appalling – this certainly won't be any better."

They had been told the new service would be in place at the start of this year, before having their contracts extended three times until term 4. The ministry tenders close on Friday next week.

- The Dominion Post

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