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  • Writer's pictureLiam Rutherford

CROSS POST - Students non-attendance at school: A complex and multi-factorial issue

The following post was first published on Equity Through Education.


The Government recently announced their plan to tackle school truancy. This plan will include new public health guidance for students and parents in relation to illness and school attendance along with weekly truancy reporting.

Few would argue the importance of addressing the issue of school non-attendance, however the announcement by Associate Minister Seymour is both disappointing and a missed opportunity. This is because it failed to recognise those factors that have been shown to contribute to student non-attendance at school and to implement a plan of action to address those factors.

Research has consistently shown that the reasons for students non-attendance at school are complex and multi-factorial. A recent review of the literature published in New Zealand by Richards and Clark-Howard (2023) provides a very useful summary and critique of current research studies in this area. In this review, they found that over numerous published studies,  six important factors were consistently reported  as key reasons students gave for their non-attendance at school. These were:

1.     Poor relationships with their teachers

2.     Feelings of powerlessness and lack of autonomy at school

3.     Having few or no friends along with feelings of exclusion or alienation from friendship groups

4.     Family factors associated with poverty, and factors such as parental divorce/separation and death of a family member

5.     Teaching styles and curriculum, for example, teaching styles that did not allow students to interact with their peers and curriculum that was too easy or too difficult.

6.     Personal factors, and in particular mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

In relation to the Government intention to gather weekly truancy data, simply weighing the pig will not make it fat. While data is critical to understanding the extent of school non-attendance, it will not be enough to address the concern. This will require a willingness on the part of the government to address the extremely complex issues associated with student non-attendance at school. Complex issues such as this one will require complex responses and likely will involve multi-agencies (government and non-government) along with parents, students, hapū and rūnanga.  

Reference

Richards, A., & Clark-Howard, K (2023). What are the reasons for absenteeism in secondary education in New Zealand/ Aotearoa? A systematic review of the qualitative literature using student voice research. Kairaranga, 24(2), 73-93.

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