Making sure your child attends school every day

In New Zealand school is so important that the law says parents and carers must make sure their child between 6 and 16 years old attends every day.

Does my child have to go to school every day?

Yes, your child must go to school every day. Under the Education Act 1989, parents and carers of children between 6 and 16 years old can be prosecuted if their child is away from school without a good reason.

Why do they need to go every day?

Going to school every day really is the key to getting the best out of school because:

  • it sets up good habits for going to school right from day one
  • learning to read, write and do maths takes a lot of practice and is easier to master if your child goes to school regularly
  • each day is a chance to learn something new
  • school offers your child regular, dedicated help to master the many skills they need
  • it teaches your child life skills like commitment, being reliable, having a good work ethic and sticking with things when they get hard.

What about my 5 year old?

Even though you don’t legally have to enrol your child at school until they turn 6 most children in New Zealand start school when they are 5.

Once your child has started school it is still important that they go regularly to get all the benefits.

If your child is going to be away from school for any reason you should always follow the school’s process to let them know.  They need to know that your child is with you and is okay.

What if my child needs to be away from school?

You child should go to school every day. But sometimes your child might need to be away from school because they are too sick to attend, have an appointment or need to be at a tangi or funeral.

If your child is going to be away from school you should let the school know as soon as possible. Check what your school’s process is for letting them know about absences. You will need to let them know that they will be away, why and for how long.

Your child’s safety and wellbeing is a priority for the school.  If your child doesn’t turn up to school they need to know that your child is safely at home with you, or their carer.  If the school doesn’t hear from you, they will get in touch with you to make sure your child is okay.

If your child is going to be away for several days, talk to their teacher about getting some work to do while they are away, so that they don’t miss out on anything important.

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Can I take my child out of school during term time to go on holiday?

No, a holiday is not a good enough reason to take your child out of school, so holidays should be planned outside of term time.

Events like a birthday or a special day’s shopping aren’t considered valid reasons for being away from school either.

What if my child is often off school sick?

If your child misses a lot of school because of a serious illness you may be able to get help from a regional health school. 

There are three regional health schools, based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.  Together they service the whole country, including remote areas.  The teachers can work with children both at home and in hospital.

You can contact them directly:

Northern Health School 
Phone 0800 153 002

Central Regional Health School 
Phone 0800 153 000

Southern Regional Health School 
Phone 03 366 6739

Does my child have to attend religious teaching or sex education at school?

No, these are times when your child doesn't have to legally attend lessons - you can ask for your child to be exempt from religious teaching or sex education lessons.  

What can I do to make sure my child is going to school?

The key here is to make school the priority. There are things you can do at home, and things you can work with the school on.

At home

  • talk to them about why it is important to go to school every day – their education is the key to doing well in life
  • be positive about school
  • set good habits about going to school from day one
  • have a good morning routine that gets them to school on time, relaxed and with everything they need
  • don't let them have the day off just because they would rather be at home
  • keep absences due to sickness to times when your child is actually sick - don't keep them at home when you know that they are just nervous about school
  • know about your child's school life - ask questions, listen to your child. This will make it easier to pick up on any issues they might be having
  • keep family holidays outside of term-time, as every day at school is an opportunity to build skills, and repetition is critical for learning – especially for primary school children
  • don’t overload them – school may be exhausting for your child so make sure they have some downtime after school to relax and have a break.

Working with the school

  • get to know your child’s teacher and the school – it’s easier to talk to them if a problem arises
  • get involved with the school - volunteer for parent help, go on school trips, help out on the PTA. It helps you to get to know the teacher and the school, and it shows your child that you prioritise their schooling
  • know your school’s process for letting them know about absences, and contact them as soon as you know your child is not going to be at school that day
  • talk to the teacher or principal if your child is reluctant to go to school, and work together to problem solve.

What can I do if my child refuses to go to school?

This can be really upsetting. Talk to your child about why they don’t want to go. Be supportive. There may be a reason, like:

  • not getting on with some of the other children
  • bullying
  • feeling too much pressure in their learning
  • a health issue, like wetting their pants
  • a problem with their teacher or other staff member.

Talk to your child’s teacher or principal straight away.  Whatever the reason, you won’t be the first parent to talk to the school about that type of situation.  Your school will have some good advice, and you’ll be able to work together to help your child.

If you have a really serious concern about a teacher or other staff member, or suspect your child is in danger you can contact the Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Teachers Council or the New Zealand Police.

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