Diligent students are missing out on class time while teachers focus on bringing bunking teenagers up to speed.
More than $3 million of extra government funding was pumped into the Integrated Attendance Service (IAS) last year to reduce truancy but, a year on, principals say the service is still failing.
Porirua College had been struggling to work with its newly appointed truancy officer after the former Non-Enrolled Truancy Service and the District Truancy Service were combined early last year. This had badly affected NCEA results and truancy rates.
Acting principal John Topp said that after months of frustration for school management and teachers, a new truancy officer had been appointed in the past week.
"It's too early to know whether it has improved though."
He said when a student finally turned up the teacher had to play "catch-up" with them and it was taking much longer to get students back in the classroom.
That had an impact on the whole class, he said.
Secondary Principals' Association president Tom Parsons said an effective truancy service was wider than just getting teenagers back in the classroom.
"The under-achieving tail in New Zealand has one thing in common - attendance, or the lack of.
"If students are in class on time, all the time, there is no such thing as under-achievement."
Mr Parsons said schools were putting time, resources and money into sorting out truancy problems themselves.
"Some schools are paying bus money out of their operational funding to get kids to school so they know they have a way of getting there."
Ministry of Education head of sector enablement Katrina Casey said she was confident the truancy service was operating effectively, based on feedback from the education sector and the service providers.
"However, as with any new service it takes a while for it to get up to speed and we welcome feedback on any issues so that we can continue to improve the service."
The service was designed to deal with "chronic non-attendance". Children who occasionally didn't go to school should be dealt with by the school and parents, she said.
BY THE NUMBERS
From September to November 2013: 3101 students reported as "chronically" not attending school
2966 (96 per cent) students returned to school by IAS
34 days was the average time to close a case, which means the student was back at school for a sustained period.
23,184 students were not enrolled at school
21,306 (92 per cent) students were traced and enrolled
10,939 (51 per cent) students were enrolled within three months.
- The Dominion Post