Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Learning Matters

Last week the government announced another $4 million will be spent on combating truancy amid claims that each day 30,000 young people are absent from school.

It is welcome news that more money is being allocated to this area. Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has been pointing out to government for many years that the majority of youth crime, which often moves on to become adult crime, begins with young people who are truant from school.

Opotiki College’s analysis of its students and the level of qualifications leavers have shows a clear co-relation between attendance and qualifications. The simple fact is that if a student attends school each day and remains at secondary school for four years they will receive national qualifications. In Opotiki College’s case in 2009 just 2 students left without qualifications after four full years of secondary education.

The opposite is equally true. 100% of students who leave before three years of secondary education have no qualifications. 50% of leavers who leave after just three years of secondary education, in Opotiki College’s case leave with no qualifications.

Almost all students who leave before these necessary four years have a pattern of poor attendance throughout their time at secondary school. The pattern begins with lateness to school, followed by missing the odd class and then moving on to missing full days.

In many cases by working closely with whanau who are keen to have their child do the very best the pattern is able to be broken and the student return to full attendance and get back on the pathway to qualifications. In a few cases the parents are either disinterested or even support the non-attendance. It is these students who don’t see out the four years and who leave without formal qualifications. They are , therefore, destined to a life time of irregular employment and low income.

It is unfortunate that the vast majority of those who we see with irregular attendance patterns began them very early in their schooling. In fact, Ministry of Education statistics show that the worst year for truancy is in a child’s first year at primary school. The pattern is difficult to break as it peaks again in years 7 and 8 and then again in years 12 and 13.

Obviously, then, something has to be done. I am not sure if throwing more money at schools to keep doing the same thing will be useful. As a school we are not certain that we can do much more for the 10-15 hard core truants we deal with as their pattern has been well and truly embedded.

Somehow, families of these children need to come to an understanding that it is their expectations of their child, their support of their child and their actions in making sure their child gets to school every day of their schooling from Year 1 that will break this negative, damaging and quality of life affecting pattern of poor attendance at school.

Schools can’t do this work. The community, its support agencies and the wider and individual families need to promote the belief that missing school without an acceptable reason is unacceptable. We need to do this for the sake of our young people’s learning and learning matters.