Fears as truancy funding slashed
The future of the region's truancy officers is uncertain as the Education Ministry moves to a new model for managing the country's truants.
The ministry is revamping its truancy services, amalgamating the District Truancy Services and Non-Enrolled Truancy Service into a new Attendance Service.
The contract to run the service in 18 locations across the country, worth $7.8 million a year, is being tendered by the ministry.
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.
Under the changes, Nelson, Marlborough, Motueka, Golden Bay, Kaikoura, and parts of the West Coast, currently separate districts with their own providers, will be amalgamated into one service area.
Whoever takes on the contract for the Nelson area will receive between $120,000 and $133,000 a year, and will have to also manage young people who are not enrolled in school.
Nelson Tasman district truancy service chairman and Nayland College deputy principal Trevor Olley said schools had calculated the funding offered in the contract was $50,000 less than the $182,000 currently provided for truancy services over the districts.
"To be honest I'm not sure why anyone would take it up," he said.
Nayland College principal Rex Smith said a consortium of schools, including those in Motueka, Buller, Greymouth, South Westland and Blenheim, were considering making their own tender, but were concerned with the lack of detail and the low funding.
He understood that the first round of tenders had attracted no bids.
A reduced level of service was inevitable with the changes, as the new system would give providers more responsibility for less funding, he said.
"Look at the region – it's huge. How are you going to manage something across that region?"
It was important that truancy officers were on the ground, rather than operating over the phone, he said.
"And you need a special type of person who can work with those families, develop a relationship with those affected groups. They're not easy to come by."
Motueka truancy officer Carol Fowler, awarded a Queen's Service Medal for services to the community earlier this month, said the lack of information was frustrating.
"If there's less money there will be fewer truancy officers. Is there going to be enough people to go around? The trouble is we don't know what they are proposing."
As far as she knew, the ministry had not consulted with the truancy officers themselves before announcing the changes.
"No ministry people to my knowledge have asked us what we do. It's not a matter of calling people and telling them to go to school.
"We walk alongside these people. We work with the school, with the students and the family to find out what the problems are."
It was ironic that her job was on the line weeks after being awarded her QSM, she said.
"[I have] a QSM in one hand, a DCM in the other – a Don't Come back Monday."
Nelson truancy officer Pip Bowman said the uncertainty was tough.
"You don't know, do you start looking for something else? It makes things really difficult."
She had been a truancy officer for 12 years, which she said was typical in the career and showed that it was a job people were passionate about.
The job was already difficult enough without added responsibilities, she said.
"I can be fairly stretched at the moment, often you do extra [unpaid] hours, and you just wouldn't be able to offer the same level of service. How you compromise, I don't know."
Ministry of Education implementation planning education, curriculum and performance senior manager Marilyn Scott said the service areas were designed to achieve the best outcomes for learners and focused on priority groups and vulnerable learners.
The funding formula per school was based on schools' July 2011 roll and weighted according to the number of Maori and Pasifika learners, the combination of students' year levels, the schools' deciles, and the schools' isolation.
The funding pool was amalgamated at the cluster level.
Tenders close on Friday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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