The issue of truancy in schools has repeatedly come up over the years. More recently, there has been increasing community, political, and education sector concern over truancy. Despite a widespread perception that truancy is on the increase, the actual size of the truancy problem is unknown. A national survey of state primary and secondary schools in New Zealand in 1977 (Taylor, Sturrock and White 1982) reported that the unjustified absence rate in primary schools was 0.69%, and in secondary schools it was 1.4%. Berwick-Emms (1987), studying attendance in primary schools in Canterbury, reported an absence rate of 5.4%. McDonald (1991) estimated truancy in New Zealand at approximately 5%. However, there are no nationally-kept figures which would indicate an overall rate of non-attendance at school, or whether such non-attendance is justified or unjustified.
The problem of truancy is shared throughout the world (see Reid 1987, Andrews 1986). Whitney (1994:15), a British researcher, notes that ‘Truancy, like poverty, has a lengthy past history, and the two have always been closely related.’ New Zealand’s basic legal requirement of compulsory school attendance for everyone between the ages of 6 and 16 relates to a history of free education provision for all children and young people living in this country. Attendance at school has been a political issue in New Zealand since the Education Act 1877. In 1995, the Education and Science Select Committee inquiry into children at risk through truancy and behavioural problems recognised truancy as being widespread throughout the country (New Zealand House of Representatives 1995).
In 1992, the Ministry of Education became involved in the funding of programmes aimed at improving school attendance. In February, the Ministry of Education proposed that Māori Wardens undertake development of a programme to combat absenteeism among students in school. Later that year, the Ministry offered funding to the Rotorua Māori...
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