Truants taking advantage of new system
Small-town schools are paying the price for the Ministry of Education's new attendance service by funding their own truancy staff to round up students.
One Waikato principal, who can't afford a full-time truancy officer, says more students are skipping school because they know they can get away with it.
The Ministry of Education introduced the Integrated Attendance Service in January, combining the Non-Enrolled Truancy Service and District Truancy Service.
It cut funding for in-school truancy officers and created a more holistic service with a focus on improving attendance for priority groups, such as Maori and Pasifika.
"The initial service meant that we had someone here at school, paid by the ministry, who was able to chase up truants on a regular basis," Morrinsville College principal John Inger said.
"This meant that she could effectively go and drag kids out of bed in the morning and bring them back to school, and so our truancy issues diminished."
The Board of Trustees has continued to employ a truancy officer this year, but only part-time.
She is restricted to phoning parents from school, rather than visiting homes and rounding up truants on the street.
"The result is that truancy rates are climbing again, because the kids understand that no-one's going to come and get them out of bed now," Mr Inger said.
Matamata College principal Alan Munro decided to fund a support worker at "slightly reduced hours" to monitor attendance "because the new service doesn't actually provide the on-the-ground support".
"It is at a significant cost to the school."
He said rural schools, which no longer have an attendance officer on site, have generally reported an increase in truancy.
There are seven attendance service staff serving the Waikato.
Mr Munro said the woman assigned to his school has a "huge workload".
City schools were more accessible and had greater support.
The new service provided excellent inter-agency support for repeat offenders, Mr Inger said.
However, it should have been "in addition to what we already had in place, not instead of".
"Cynically, this is about saving money, not providing a better service."
Waikato Integrated Attendance Service team leader Jim Church said his team was not required to patrol the streets under the new contract.
Working closely with whanau and students was more effective for reducing truancy.
"I think the wraparound service, which we're trying to provide, is better long term," he said.
"The only part we're not doing now is picking them off the streets and returning them to school."
Schools can refer frequent truant cases to the service.