Whole-of-Government approach for school engagement

A committee of Auckland diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission has called for a whole-of-government approach to measures to encourage school engagement by students. 

Commission executive secretary Peter Garrick spoke to Parliament’s Education and Workforce Committee on September 30. The JPC’s Education and Workforce Select Committee had made a submission to the select committee’s inquiry into student attendance. 

Mr Garrick pointed out that attendance issues in New Zealand schools pre-date the current difficulties that schools are experiencing during the various Covid lockdowns.  

“In fact, the Ministry of Education’s Student Attendance Survey Term 2 2019 showed that ‘regular attendance’ (absent no more than 1 day a fortnight) at New Zealand schools has declined from 70 per cent in 2015 to an astonishing 58 per cent in 2019,” Mr Garrick said. 

Declines in regular attendance was even greater in primary than secondary schools, with the largest drop in years 1 to 8 and among Maori and Pacific students, Mr Garrick added. “In addition, irregular, moderate and chronic absence rates have also accelerated since 2015,” he said. 

The written submission outlined the New Zealand and overseas research that shows a direct connection between school attendance and student learning. “The evidence is overwhelming,” Mr Garrick said. “The more students are absent from school the less they learn.” 

International assessments have shown significant declines in the performance by New Zealand students in subjects like reading, maths and science in recent years. As well as time given to core subjects and the way they are taught, the JPC committee submission stated that this trend has “a lot to do with the significant decline in school attendance in New Zealand over the 2015-19 period”. 

Mr Garrick said that the 2015-2019 period has also seen “a significant increase in the cost of housing, decreased home ownership, and a resulting increased mobility of families exacerbated by New Zealand’s slowness to adopt measures to support security of tenure for tenants”.  

Studies have shown that moving frequently, particularly to new school areas, can have a negative effect on students’ school attendance, engagement and achievement, Mr Garrick said. 

“School attendance is not just an isolated ‘problem’,” he said, but should be seen as part of wider social problems that Governments do have levers to do something about. He praised recent measures around increasing public housing supply and increasing security for tenants, but said that more is needed. 

The submission also criticised a 2013 move to contract out attendance services to “external, grossly underfunded regional ‘Attendance Services’ across large numbers of schools”, rather than funding schools themselves to effectively monitor their own students’ school attendance. 

“The evidence is strong that this change has had a profound effect on the decline of student attendance,” Mr Garrick said. “It is surely time to return to a school-based system that has served us well in the past.” 

The submission urged the select committee to recommend that, as part of their overall teacher allocation, “all schools be allocated a fully-funded attendance officer/pastoral carer who is solely responsible for identifying any issues which may result in absenteeism”. 

Other areas touched on by the submission included expulsions, suspensions and stand-downs, as well as the provision of alternative school options. 

Among the other recommendations made in the submission was that all schools be required to have a comprehensive and practical attendance policy. 

The submission also called for “a whole-of-government approach to issues such as affordability of housing, and stable rental situations that increase family stability, and provide an environment that encourages school engagement”. 

 

 

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