Children are missing school more in New Zealand than other countries and it is getting worse

Going to school is crucial for children’s futures and every day of school matters. Yet New Zealand’s attendance is much lower than other countries and is falling. Only three out of five learners regularly attend school.

Covid-19 has badly disrupted attendance, but we were seeing serious issues with attendance before the pandemic. Between 2015 and 2019 the percentage of learners regularly attending school dropped from 70% to 58%.

Missing school adds up. If students miss a week of school each term by the time they are 16 they will have missed a year of schooling. That’s a lot of learning time lost. There is no safe level of non-attendance, even just missing two days a term is linked to lower achievement.

What we found is that many New Zealand parents and students don’t prioritise going to school. 

In our latest research we found that four in 10 parents are comfortable with their child missing more than a week of school a term. In addition to this, a third of students didn’t see going to school every day as that important and, concerningly, nearly a quarter of students said they did not think school was that important for their futures.

We know that many parents and students are not prioritising school. Two-thirds of parents would keep their children home for a special event and around a third would take their children out of school for a holiday or sporting event. More than one in 10 parents would keep their child home for their birthday. In addition to this, a third of students said they want to miss school because they have more enjoyable things to do at home.

Our new research also highlights the barriers that some students face. For example, students who miss school are more likely to report poor relationships with teachers and peers. This is important because relationships with friends and having teachers they like are key motivators for students to go to school.

We need to urgently turn around New Zealand’s falling attendance rate if we want to see our children achieve. This will require action from government, communities, schools, parents, and the learners themselves.

Complementing the Government’s recently released Attendance and Engagement Strategy, ERO recommends five areas for action to turn these patterns around.

We need to improve parents’ understanding of the importance of going to school and their awareness of how often their children are going to school.

School also needs to be more engaging for all students and a great place to be. Schools and agencies will also need to work together to tackle the key barriers to attendance such as transport and having the right equipment.

Finally, we need to help students catch up on learning after missing school so they don’t fall further behind.