Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

Truancy: Wagging school

What can happen to me if I wag school?

Education and Training Act 2020 ss 36, 80

It depends. Schools deal with this differently based on their school rules. Some may give you a punishment like writing lines or doing detention.

If you wag school regularly, the principal could stand you down or suspend you, on the ground that this is continual disobedience and is a harmful example to other students. For more information, see “Stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions

However, the school should investigate first and consider the reasons why you were absent, and how the problem could be addressed.

If you don’t go for 20 school days in a row and you don’t tell the school that it’s just a temporary absence, the principal can record you as having left the school. If you’re younger than 16, you’ll have to either re-enrol at that school or enrol at another one.

How many hours a day do I have to be at school?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 36(3)

On any given day, you have to be at school when it’s ‘open for instruction’ for at least four hours. Otherwise, you’ll be recorded as truant (away from school) on that day.

However, that doesn’t mean you can leave school after four hours. You still need to get the school’s permission to leave before regular class hours are over. If you leave early without permission at any time the school can discipline you.

What does the school have to do if I’m wagging school?

Education and Training Act 2020, s 36, 48; Education (School Attendance) Regulations 1951, reg 3

The school board has to do what they can, within reason, to make sure you’re at school whenever it’s open. Schools have to keep accurate daily attendance records for all students, and the school should also have a plan for what to do if you’re wagging school (usually called an “attendance management plan”).

Steps the school could take if you’re regularly not going to school:

  • assess the situation at a meeting with senior staff or the school board
  • make sure your whānau is clearly told about the problem, both verbally and in writing
  • arrange a whānau meeting to discuss the problem
  • contact other agencies if there are issues such as learning difficulties, or abuse, neglect, or other issues at home.

What is an attendance officer and what can they do?

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 48, 49, 242

Schools can employ an “attendance officer” to make sure you go to school.

Attendance officers can:

  • detain (hold) you if they find you outside school
  • ask you to provide your name and address, the name and address of your school, and the reason why you’re not there
  • take you home or to the school they think you’re enrolled at if they aren’t satisfied with your response.
  • Attendance officers need to show evidence of who they are (like a badge) if they talk to you. They can’t go into your home uninvited.
  • If you or someone else purposely obstructs or interferes with an attendance officer (or police officer), like by providing a fake address, they can be fined up to $1,000.

A police officer has the same powers (listed above) as an attendance officer.

If I’m not going to school, when might Oranga Tamariki or another agency get involved?

Oranga Tamariki Act, ss 14(1), 19

If you’re regularly not going to school and the school has tried all options under its attendance management plan, it can get the Ministry of Education’s Attendance Service involved.

One of the service’s local organisations will then phone or visit your whānau to discuss why you haven’t been at school. They will work with you and your school to develop a plan to get you back into school.

In some cases, your school or the police may also contact Oranga Tamariki (OT) if you come under the care and protection laws. Care and protection laws apply if OT believes you’re experiencing neglect or abuse.

If OT become involved, they’ll probably set up a Family Group Conference (FGC) to look at the issues of concern. At the conference, your whānau can talk about why you’re not going to school and suggest solutions. The FGC should inform a plan of action, and OT should make sure support is in place for you and your family.

For more information, see “Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children” in the Community Law Manual

Information for Parents and whānau

Your responsibilities if your child wags school

Education and Training Act 2020, ss 35, 36, 243, 244

You have to enrol your child in school between the ages of six and 16.

You also have to make sure your child goes to school every day that it’s open, unless there’s a genuine excuse, like being sick.

If you don’t make your child go to school, you could be charged and fined up to $30 for every day your child is away. If you’re found guilty of this a first time, you could be fined up to a total of $300. If you’re charged and found guilty again, you could have to pay up to $3000.

What you can do if you’re worried your child is wagging school

If you are concerned about your child wagging school, you could start by contacting one of the following people and telling them about your concerns:

  • the school’s guidance counsellor
  • the dean for your child’s year
  • the principal
  • the school’s attendance officer
  • the local Attendance Service organisation – they can help find your child and get them back to school. You can contact the Attendance Service through your school or the Ministry of Education.

The school must have an attendance management plan, and they can work with you to make a plan to get your child back to school. You can also ask the school for an attendance report for your child.

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Enrolment, attendance, and the school system

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