Making sure your child attends school
Every single day counts towards your child’s learning at secondary school and gives your child the best chance to gain qualifications and do well in life.
- Does my child have to go to school every day?
- Why do they need to go every day?
- What if my child needs to be away from school?
- Can I take my child out of school during term time to go on holiday?
- What if my child is often sick?
- Does my child have to attend religious teaching or sex education at school?
- Can my child go to school part-time?
- Are there any situations where my child does not have to be enrolled in a school?
- What if my child refuses to go to school?
- What can I do to help my child go to school?
Yes, if your child is under 17 years old they 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.
Attending school every day is just as important at secondary school as it was at primary school.
The first two years of secondary school prepare your child for the NCEA years, so going to school regularly right from the start is important so they don’t miss any of this learning.
Once your child reaches year 11, or “old” 5th form, they begin NCEA. They will have an NCEA assessment approximately once a week and sometimes more often. Many NCEA assessments take place in class time, so if your child is away they will miss out on important NCEA work. For subjects with external examinations, it is crucial that students attend every day because the exams test their knowledge about what has been taught in class.
Going to school every day also sets your child up with good life skills like having a good work ethic, being reliable, commitment. It teaches them that they can achieve and will help them stick with school for longer.
Your child should be attending 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.
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.
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.
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 country areas. The teachers 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
No, you can ask for your child to be exempt from religious teaching or sex education if you wish.
In general, no. In some situations a student who is 17 or older may attend on a part-time basis but this is very unusual. This decision is up to the individual school so you need to contact the principal to talk about this.
In special circumstances a student who is 15 may be given permission to no longer attend school - this is called an Early Leaving Exemption.
You need to contact your local Ministry of Education office to discuss your child's case for exemption. They will talk to you about the reasons why you want to do this, the process involved, and can give you an application form to fill out and return. They consider any problems with your child's learning and behaviour and whether they are likely to get any benefit from remaining in school.
First you should talk to your child about why they don't want to go to school. It’s probably a sign that they’re having a problem, like:
- they’re having difficulty with their school work
- there is a problem with other children at school
- there’s an issue with a teacher
- a family situation
- a health issue
- drug and alcohol use
- a mental health issue
- a social or behavioural issue.
Make an appointment to talk to their class or form teacher or dean. They will have some good ideas to help, and you’ll be able to work together to help your child before it turns into a truancy problem. They can also refer you on to other organisations if the problem is not related to school.
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 directly.
- expect them to go to school every day - don't accept excuses, or let them stay at home unless they are too sick to be at school
- talk to your teenager about why it is important to go to school regularly and encourage them to give themselves a fair chance to achieve. Let them know they are more likely to do well if they go to school each day.
- help them get to school on time by waking them early enough, having a morning routine and making sure their transport is reliable
- get to know the form teacher and dean at the start of the school year – it will make it easier to talk to them if an issue arises
- find out how the school manages attendance. What time does your child have to be at school? What happens if they are late? How should you let the school know if your child is going to be away? How and when will the school let you know if your child has not turned up?
- check often that your child is in fact attending class
- if you have any concerns about their attendance, talk to the school earlier rather than later – don’t wait until the end of the term or year when it’s too late and their non-attendance has started to have an impact on their learning
- keep family holidays outside of term time – it’s more difficult to catch up if they have missed several days in a row
- if your child needs to be away, check with the school on how they can catch up on work missed or ask the teacher for work they can do while away.
Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Tell us what you think.