Truancy: How to get your child to stop wagging/bunking school

If your child is falling into a pattern of ditching school, it’s time to get involved. It may not seem like a big deal, but it could be a sign that something’s wrong.

Cluey Learning Friday, 21 May 2021

The Education Act 1989 requires that all children in New Zealand attend school from their 6th until their 16th birthday, with limited exemptions. During this time, both parents/caregivers and schools have a responsibility to ensure children are regularly attending school.

It’s not uncommon, especially for teenagers and pre-teens, to miss a class or skip a few periods here and there. But when they go to town instead of attending school more often, you’ll get a phone call about it from the dean or principal.

It may not always seem like a big deal if your child has skipped a few lessons. You may even have done it yourself when you were at school. However, it’s important to deal with the issue as soon as it happens. It’s your responsibility as a parent to make sure your child goes to school every day it’s open unless there’s a genuine excuse like being sick.

What you can do to make it stop

If your child is falling into a pattern of recurrent truancy, you’ll want to get involved. Skipping school is a serious issue and if your child does it regularly, he or she is less likely to succeed at school and may leave without the education and qualifications they need to do well in life.

Wagging is against the law, but it can also be a sign that something’s not right for your child. Maybe they are having difficulty with their schoolwork, or there is an issue with other children at school or with a teacher. They could simply be bored with the routine, or something more serious could be the case, such as drug or alcohol use or mental health issues.

When you receive that call or a message from the school about your child being truant, it can be upsetting and disappointing. Try not to get angry, but instead try to talk to them about how they are feeling, and why they have been avoiding school.

Your child may be having some real problems which they need help with, so it’s important that you provide a safe and calm environment and allow them to talk openly and honestly about their reasons for not going to class.

The important thing is to keep communicating, with your child and the school. Let the school know about anything else that is going on, and ensure your child knows that you are on their side and look for help or additional support if you or your child needs it.

Take any contact from the school seriously and make sure that your son or daughter understands the importance of the situation. Let them know you want to help. If things go become heated, come back to the subject another time.

Setting boundaries is important for young people, so don’t try to barter with them or offer incentives. Many parents fall into the trap of bribing their kids to go to school. The issue with this is that they’ll probably do it again just to see what else they can get out of you. Attending school is something that’s required of your child, so rewarding them for attending is not the right approach.

What if it keeps on happening?

If your child’s attendance doesn’t improve, the school can make a referral to the Attendance Service to help. You can also ask the school to make a referral, but only the school can make the referral. They’ll talk to you first about taking this step and explain what’s involved.

The Attendance Service helps by:

  • visiting schools to talk about children with attendance issues and give advice
  • visiting you at home and talking about what might be stopping your child from going to school
  • providing help to get your child back to school
  • arrange and attend family group conferences if needed
  • putting you in touch with other services that can help
  • going out and finding your child during school time and returning them to school

If your child continues to be truant, the school can consider it continual disobedience and suspend your child as a last resort. If this happens, the school and its board of trustees needs to follow the process for suspending a student. If your child is truant for more than 20 school days in a row with no good reason, and you haven’t been in touch with the school, the school can remove your child from the roll.

By the numbers

Research shows that every day away from school can affect results. For example, students attending 95% of days in Year 10 later get an average of 75 credits at Level 3 – more than enough to achieve the qualification. For students attending Year 10 for 85% of the time, only about half go on to achieve NCEA Level 3.

Each year, all primary and secondary schools provide their roll data for every day of Term 2 to the Education Ministry to monitor in its annual attendance survey. There are several measures but the most important is “regular attendance” – the proportion of students who go to school at least 90 per cent of the time.

Education Counts shows that students missing fewer than 10 percent of school half-days in year 11 are more than 80 percent likely to attain NCEA Level 1 by the end of Year 11, while students missing a third of their classes have only a 50/50 chance, and students making only half their classes have just over a 20 percent chance.

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