When your child is wagging school

Truancy - wagging or skipping school is a serious issue. Your child is less likely to succeed at school and more likely to leave without the education and qualifications they need to do well in life.

What is "being truant"?

Being truant, or ditching school often starts small and grows to more and more absences from school, like:

  • lateness
  • missing a class
  • missing a pre or post lunch session
  • missing the entire day or days
  • a pattern of truancy, like your child regularly not turning up on Mondays or Fridays
  • absences from school for days or weeks.

When is it not wagging school?

When you child needs to be away from school for a good reason, like they are too sick to go to school, have an appointment or are going to a tangi or funeral.

You would know about these absences and have let the school know that your child is going to be away.

Why is wagging school so bad?

To start with, it’s against the law.

It’s also a sign that something’s not right for your child.  It could be:

  • they’re having difficulty with their school work
  • there is a problem with other children at school
  • there’s an issue with a teacher
  • bullying
  • boredom
  • a family situation
  • a health issue
  • drug and alcohol use
  • a mental health issue
  • a social or behavioural issue

Being away a lot means that your child isn’t engaged in their education and learning all they need to succeed.

It can lead to a child leaving school early without the education and qualifications they need to do well in life. Not attending school also increases the risk that your child will get into trouble with the law.

As we all know, non-participation in school is probably the greatest correlative to youth offending.  We also know that learning difficulties, behavioural difficulties, and school disengagement often run hand in hand, and compound the risks of offending and re-offending

- Judge Becroft, Principal Youth Court Judge

What can I do if I think my child is wagging school?

Some children need extra help to keep them engaged and at school.

If you think your child is being truant, it’s important to talk the school about it straight away.  If the school notices the problem first, or if your child is away for more than 2 or 3 days without a good reason, they will contact you. 

Together you and the school should work together at the earliest signs of a problem so that your child can get back to school before their learning is affected and truancy becomes a serious problem.  You can meet with the school wherever you feel most comfortable – it can be at home, or another neutral place, or at school.  It also gives you a chance to help your child with any other issues that they might be struggling with.

A plan between you and the school can include:

  • keeping in regular contact with the teacher
  • asking the teacher to keep a close eye on your child and letting you know if they turn up late to class or aren’t in class at all
  • the school getting in touch if your child is away without a note from you
  • some ways to address the problem that’s keeping your child away from school
  • some strategies and steps to take if your child continues to be skip school.

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 What if my child keeps being truant?

The goal is always to help your child regularly attend school before it becomes a serious problem for everyone.

If your child’s attendance doesn’t improve then the school can make a referral to the Attendance Service to help.

If you are struggling to keep your child in school you can also ask the school to make a referral.

Only the school can make the referral and they’ll talk to you first about taking this step.

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 too
  • going out and finding your child during school time and returning them to school.

If your child continues to be truant as a last resort the school can consider it continual disobedience and suspend your child.  If this happens the school and 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.

What do I do if my child is removed from the school roll?

If your child is removed from the school roll and does not enrol into another school, the Attendance Service will get in contact with you and visit you and your child.  They will assess the situation, support you, and advise you about the options for getting your child back to school, like enrolling:

  • back in school
  • through Te Kura (The Correspondence School)
  • with an Alternative Education provider – this is a specialised schooling option for students who are often truant or who do not fit into a mainstream school

If your child is aged between 15 to 16 years, the Attendance Service advisor may also talk about getting an Early Leaving Exemption for your child, which is permission from the Ministry of Education for them to leave school early.

The Attendance Service can also link you up with other services that can help get your child back into school.

Will I get into trouble if my child is truant?

If your child is continually truant from school despite everyone's best efforts and you are condoning the truancy you can be prosecuted.

Where else can I get help?

There are many people and organisations that can help you.

  • at school, your child’s teacher, guidance counsellor, attendance officer (if your school has one), social worker (if your school has one) and principal are all good people to help you, along with the Attendance Service.
  • the Parents Legal Information line provides free legal advice about school issues.  Phone them on 0800 499 488
  • strengthening Families (www.strengtheningfamilies.govt.nz) can bring together organisations to help your child, family and whanau with many issues in your child’s life
  • iwi authorities, like Te R`unanga o Ng`ai Te Rangi Iwi Trust www.ngaiterangi.org.nz can support whānau.
  • Child, Youth and Family www.cyf.govt.nz
  • NZ Police’s Youth aid teams www.police.govt.nz

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