School case studies

These school case studies are taken from the 2011 report on attendance strategies used by non-DTS schools  [PDF: 1.23mb].

The five case studies provide a richer understanding of the practices used by schools to manage attendance and identify lessons that can be learnt more generally by other schools.

Key message

A mix of both proactive and reactive strategies by schools is important. In particular, the importance of proactive strategies aimed at increasing student engagement should not be overlooked (that is, putting effort into having students wishing to attend schools rather than only into trying to deter them from unjustified non-attendance). Consider actions affecting teachers, students and parents. For example, despite the possible practical difficulties, schools should carefully consider the pros and cons of an open door policy for parents to contact teachers without making appointments in advance.

Waitara Central School

Turning up for school is becoming the "norm" for children at Waitara Central School. At the beginning of last year the school got on board with a truancy programme called Te Ara Tika (The Right Path) that has given students a better chance of getting to school.

Find out more about the work the school is doing in "School Turns Truancy Around" from the Taranaki Daily News website.

Otahuhu College, Auckland

Promoting a holistic approach to student learning and engagement

Otahuhu College is New Zealand’s largest decile one college with a student roll of approximately 1400 students. The student population is predominantly Pasifika with both Island born and New Zealand born students (64% Pasifika, mainly Samoan and Tongan). Other ethnic groups represented in the college include Māori (14%) and Indian (17%). A unique feature of the college is that 31 of the 90 teaching staff have a Pacific background reflecting the commitment and drive of the college for promoting Pasifika student achievement.

The college places strong value in wearing uniforms as it is believed to foster a sense of pride and belonging to the college. From the perspective of the staff, this is a critical first step to promoting student engagement. In addition, the college initiated an assessment of year 9 students in 2009 covering their home environment and health issues. This identified a number of issues that were not known to teachers such as poverty, overcrowding, gang links, mental health issues and undiagnosed visual/aural and general health issues. Understanding these wider issues allowed the college to develop meaningful and constructive solutions to student engagement more generally.

Vision and philosophy

The vision and philosophy of the college is embodied in the spirit of KIA TAMATĀNE - be like Tamatāne - the inspiring story of the Māori boy who transformed his life to become a role model for the entire tribe. The story has captured the imagination of the students and staff alike and has led the college to strengthen its commitment to creating a dynamic learning community that meets the diverse needs of its student population. The vision sets high expectations for students and their families alike urging them to achieve their full potential.

Strong parent and family engagement is integral to achieving this vision and consequently, the college has a range of activities throughout the school year to strengthen relationships between the school-students-family-community. The college believes that fundamentally all parents value education and need to be reminded occasionally about the impact of irregular attendance on learning. This reflects the strength-based approach of the college managing attendance (as opposed to blaming parents for non-attendance), leading to the college working collaboratively with parents to find solutions. The college recognises that unjustified absence is the tip of the iceberg and therefore has focused their attention and efforts to develop wrap-around services in order to respond to social, health and educational needs of the students and the family.

Attendance patterns and trends

Unjustified absence is an ongoing problem at the college and the principal noted that it was a more significant problem for Otahuhu College compared with other colleges in the vicinity. However, it was seen as a problem that faced a small subset of the school roll but consumed significant school resources and time. Reasons for absence included looking after younger siblings; pressure to help with interpretation for family members or relatives at various agency meetings; need to contribute to church-related activities; attending tangi or funeral; returning to or from the Islands; need to contribute financially to the family and/or lack of parental engagement or push to attend school (parents of these students tended to work late and were not physically around to motivate or push the child to go to school). A key question for the school was: has the problem intensified over the past few years, or has it just become more visible as a consequence of better data and analysis? The problem is experienced mainly between year 9 to year 12. Year 13 students are less likely to be truants because they come to school because they want to.

More recently, Otahuhu College has begun to provide attendance information to the Board and this was well received by the Board. It gave the Board a more comprehensive picture of the college and its performance and encouraged them to ask questions about trends early rather than later. The college provided information on both intermittent unjustified absence (absent for a period or part of a day) and unjustified absence (missing for a whole day or days) to the Board. Intermittent attendance was seen as an early indication/signal of truancy and therefore the college tended to address these situations proactively. Truancy was seen as a deeper problem and arising due to environmental factors as well as internal motivations of the student and therefore presented more challenges to the college.

Strategies for managing non-attendance

Otahuhu College used a mix of proactive and reactive strategies to respond to non-attendance.

Proactive strategies

The college used a range of strategies that were focused on creating a positive learning environment for students and improving coordination between pastoral care and health systems within the college. The predominant view was that creating a safe and engaging learning environment that was responsive to diverse needs of students would motivate students to attend. To this end, the school had implemented a range of strategies that were designed to create a positive school-wide culture of learning and engagement including:

  • creating a vibrant and competitive ‘house’ system which fostered a sense of belonging and identity for members
  • facilitating participation in sports through access to quality facilities, free uniform, free laundry for uniforms, free transport to games and competitions recognising and rewarding the top 10 students with high attendance
  • celebrating academic, cultural and sporting achievement – role modelling Pacific success by inviting Pasifika speakers at awards ceremonies
  • developing the health and wellness centre on-site – this is a physical structure where students and families accessed health care, social workers, pastoral care and career counsellors
  • provision of free breakfast – this was a new initiative being trialled by the school with positive results
  • other initiatives such as the Gateway programme (programme designed to enable senior secondary students to undertake structured workplace learning across a range of industries and businesses while continuing to study at school) and a peer mediation system (capacity building for senior students in conflict resolution and mediation to help resolve difficult situations at the peer group level).

Cultural responsiveness

The ethnic mix of the student population in Otahuhu College had led the college to consider implementing culturally appropriate strategies including:

  • a third of staff employed by the school had a Pasifika background
  • two Pasifika community liaison roles (Tongan and Niuean)
  • Pasifika staff in the support team with fluency in the language who took the phone messages from parents or rang parents to inquire after an absent student
  • the first 15 in the school were projected as role models in the college and lead in every aspect of school life to motivate and inspire the general student population; the first 15 enjoy tremendous respect and regard in the college, particularly among Pasifika and Māori students and using them to emulate positive behaviours was perceived to be a culturally appropriate strategy
  • the college had a strong focus on cultural events and showcased the different cultures at school events
  • there was a strong focus on parental engagement at the college and this was encouraged through an open door policy (inviting parents to come to the college at any time to meet with any teacher or staff member); newsletters; parent meetings; texting parents when the child was absent
  • using attendance data during parent-teacher meetings and linking attendance patterns to achievement.

Reactive strategies

While the proactive strategies were designed to create a positive and engaging environment (thus promoting attendance), reactive strategies were put in place to respond to non-attendance once it had occurred. Reactive strategies included the following:

  • communications systems by which families were informed by phone or text if student was not at school and invited to provide an explanation for the absence
  • attendance is recorded electronically every period in the school to identify patterns of intermittent unjustified absence
  • set of graded letters to escalate the problem on the basis of responses to notification
  • process by which serious or ‘hard’ cases were referred to the District Truancy Service (Otara Boards Forum) or the police
  • publish a list of the top 10 offenders for all students to see
  • "Every Day Counts" programme to communicate messages around attendance.

Student voice

While the school principal, staff and Board members provided a perspective of the school and its overall approach to non-attendance management, the researchers attempted to triangulate the information by speaking with students. Students were asked to put together a collage using pictures, words and descriptions to convey their views and experiences of the college and their motivation for coming to college. This technique proved to be very insightful and provided a rich picture of how students perceived and viewed the school. In the context of Otahuhu College, students described the college in the following way:

  • fun
  • diverse
  • encouraged success on all fronts – academic, cultural and sporting success
  • enforced discipline but in a respectful way (mana)
  • a place where memories were built and friendships were forged
  • family orientated
  • offered a new start for a new future for students.

When asked to identify factors that motivated students to attend school regularly, the following emerged as being important.

  • Teachers who wanted to be at school and wanted to teach –students felt that teacher attitudes to their job and teaching had a huge impact on their teaching style and reflected a willingness on their part to engage with students. Such teachers attracted students to their class and students felt a lot more engaged and connected with the college.
  • Teachers who understood teenagers and recognised their learning styles – such teachers tended to take a student-centred learning approach and embraced all learning styles. Not only did students attend regularly, they were also engaged in learning and helped them achieve their educational goals.
  • Parents who actively supported their child to achieve – parental engagement and participation in school-related events sent positive signals to the child about the value parents placed on education and learning. Students also felt that such parents provided the child with the time and space to study and achieve strong results in school tests and exams. This in turn motivated students to attend regularly.
  • Schools provided opportunities for demonstrating leadership and acquiring a range of social and team work skills in a safe environment. Students appreciated these opportunities and felt that they made school interesting.
  • Students noted that having a strong sense of belonging was critical to student engagement and activities that fostered this connectedness with school were rated very favourably. From students’ perspective, uniforms, house activities, inter-school competitions and other school-focused events strengthened the sense of belonging and pride in the school.

Parent voice

Most of these messages were endorsed by parents and parents noted that having staff that encouraged parental involvement and participation in the child’s learning were equally critical to sustaining student engagement. Demystifying school and learning and clarifying the framework for standards and assessment were particularly important as many parents confessed that their experiences at school were not always positive. "Not feeling judged" was important to parents and Otahuhu College and its staff was rated positively on these aspects. In the context of Otahuhu College, access to health services on site was seen as hugely beneficial.

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Melville High School, Hamilton

Melville High School is a decile 4, co-educational school with a school roll of approximately 600 students. The school strives to develop educated young people equipped with the skills, knowledge and attitudes to succeed in the 21st Century through a balanced curriculum, excellent facilities and a dedicated and skilful teaching staff. The student population is ethnically diverse: Māori 40%, Pākehā 34%, Asian 11%, and Pasifika 10%. The diversity had led the school to acknowledge that students learn in different ways and at their own pace, and to adapt the curriculum to allow each individual to succeed and reach their potential. Students were also encouraged to participate in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. The school has also selected to be a pilot school for the Ministry’s Positive Behaviour for Learning strategy.

Vision and philosophy

The school philosophy is well captured in its vision statement ‘creating a pathway for a positive future’ and signals the school’s commitment to providing a safe, caring work environment for students. Over the years the school had focused on developing a school culture that valued and consistently promoted high expectations for learning and behaviour across the school. Consequently, the school had implemented an extensive pastoral care network to support student well-being and address behavioural issues. A restorative approach to managing relationships which emphasised resolutions rather than punitive actions is well embedded in the school. Te Kotahitanga is also a significant feature of the schools’ efforts to improve student engagement with learning through the promotion of responsive relationships. Lessons learnt from Te Kotahitanga project were seen as relevant for students of all ethnic groups in the school and a central feature of how the school responded to issues in the school.

Attendance patterns and trends

Attendance levels in the school were low and stood at 80%, which is below the national average. Nevertheless, this school was selected as a case because of its participation in the Te Kotahitanga project and its high Māori and Pasifika student roll. This would allow the researchers to identify particular strategies that had been successfully trialled in this instance. While stand-downs and suspensions were below the national average the school continued to experience significant behavioural issues. There was a sense that the problem had got worse over the years mainly because students’ out of school responsibilities had also increased. Senior students were expected to support the family through childcare and financially through part-time work to boost family income. Transience was another major reason that students did not develop a strong schoolwork ethic which in turn led to problems with attendance.

Staff distinguished between lateness, ‘wagging’ or intermittent attendances, and chronic truancy. Lateness, while important, was not a major cause for concern amongst staff. It was seen to arise due to transport issues (as many students at Melville came from rural areas) or sleeping in (as adolescents needed more sleep). However once the student signed in, they were usually in school the rest of the day. Each student who signed in late was met by a member of staff to establish the reason for lateness and provide guidance to the student on addressing the underlying issue. Since this approach was adopted, lateness figures had improved considerably – from 80-100 a day it is down to 20-30.

Wagging or intermittent attendance occurred mainly due to a poor relationship with the teacher or lack of student engagement with the subject or school more generally. School-based factors were seen as primary causes for intermittent attendance and the problem exacerbated by the student’s unwillingness to vocalise these problems. Culturally, Māori, Pasifika and Fijian Indian families tended to be respectful of authority and reluctant to raise concerns with institutions such as the school. The school recognised these issues and introduced restorative practices to provide an avenue and forum for students to raise such issues in confidence one-on-one with a person who was not a member of staff. More recently the school has begun to look at data on intermittent attendance more closely and noted that students tend to wag classes of particular teachers. However the principal felt that staff needed to own this if the school was serious about addressing these issues. Work was underway to get staff on board at the time of our visit. The reflective practices promoted by Te Kotahitanga have influenced these developments in the school.

Chronic truancy was seen as ongoing intermittent attendance which occurred either due to peer pressure or student disengagement (as the student that missed a few classes was not supported to re-engage in the classroom). The Rock On programme was seen as an ideal solution to help the school address the wider social and family-related factors associated with chronic truancy. With respect to student engagement the size of the school was seen as a barrier as the school was unable to offer a range of subject choices to meet needs of all students.

In Melville (as in other secondary schools) ownership and responsibility for non-attendance lay with the tutor teacher (as they had pastoral care responsibilities) and not with the subject teacher. As a result, the subject teacher viewed their responsibilities in a limited way and essentially passed on information about attendance rather than question the pattern of non-attendance or question how the student could be re-integrated into the class with minimal disruption to their learning.

Strategies for managing non-attendance

Proactive strategies

The list of proactive strategies used by the school includes:

  • appointing a Māori liaison person to engage with the parent community and oversee the kapa haka group and the marae-related events
  • linking with the Pasifika youth worker from the city council
  • developing systems to track and identify problems early
  • acknowledging good attendance publicly
  • setting 80% attendance target for students who wish to participate in school related competitions and events (so that the participation can be a reward)
  • Learning Initiatives Department (LID) which provided a fixed ‘home’ for students to eliminate absences occurring due to movement across classes; the staff were of the view that students with poor attendance history did not respond positively to the secondary school system where students moved between classes.

In addition, the school had adopted the restorative practice model for students with behavioural issues. However, implications for attendance were not fully explored during these restorative conversations which tended to focus mainly on addressing behavioural issues (eg, anger management; inability to listen; clashes with teachers).

Reactive strategies

The range of reactive strategies used is similar to most schools included in the survey and the case study research. It includes the following:

  • ringing parents or texting parents following roll check
  • responses were fed back to the tutor teacher and then the dean
  • if unable to make contact, then a staff member or the dean undertakes a home visit – however staff mentioned that they do not like doing this as often the students lived in unsafe environment and staff felt that they did not have the skills to deal with confrontational situations.

Other initiatives under consideration by the school were:

  • sending a school leaving form along with previous year’s attendance record to senior students who had poor attendance record from 2011 so as to convey the seriousness of their behaviour
  • take away the unsupervised study spell for year 13 because ‘all they do is socialise and chat’ and disrupts other students’ study
  • conveying expectations and standards with respect to attendance and behaviour as part of the orientation day – need to set the tone and culture from the beginning including establishing social rules.

Student voice

The focus group with students revealed that students had a strong attachment to the school and believed the school encouraged success on all fronts – academic, cultural and sporting success. The school was described in the following way:

  • It is a social educator; academic education and sports and cultural educators.
  • It gives us positive role models and strengthens our belief that the world is really your oyster.

The teachers were singled out and described as ‘amazing’, ‘incorporating the spirit of the school in terms of diversity and success’, ‘respectful’ and ‘committed’. However students did comment that they often received mixed messages from teachers about acceptable behaviours resulting in inconsistent disciplining. This was an issue and students often felt disengaged at the perceived ‘unfairness’ of the teacher’s response. Interestingly students were also unsure about the effectiveness of the restorative practice approach – in their view some of the students used this to their advantage and there was a sense that it offered some of the kids an easy way out. The following quotation illustrates the views of students:

  • As students we really appreciate structure and discipline and boundary. We often like being told clearly what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and for teachers to tell this consistently.
  • Our school uses a restorative practice approach. It is good but some students can have fun playing with it. I mean don’t get me wrong, it is a step in the right direction, it is really not ideal for kids that are really badly behaved. It works for the easy-to-manage kids with minor behavioural issues but for the hard core, we do question its effectiveness. We see how kids can misuse the model and dilute its very purpose.

Student engagement was a critical issue in Melville resulting in the Board and the school principals selecting this as the main area of focus for 2011. Reasons for student disengagement included:

  • teachers not challenging students enough to keep them engaged
  • inconsistency in discipline
  • there was no avenue for offering feedback to teachers – survey forms were handed back to the teachers and this limits honest feedback
  • lack of clear boundary and statement about what the standards were in the school – students appeared to value this
  • lack of choices in subjects to cater to differing learning needs of students.

Parent voice

Parents who participated in the focus group commented on the lack of engagement from parents more generally in the school. In their view the school tried quite hard to motivate parents to come to school events – through sports and cultural events or celebrating their child’s success. However there was a sense that some parents were not interested and this impacted negatively on the child’s success at school. Consequently the same group of parents attended all of the school related activities making it onerous for a small set of parents.

The fact that the school did not have an open door policy was identified by the parent focus group as a possible contributing factor – parents had to ring and provide a reason for seeking an appointment with the principal or a staff member which acted as a deterrent for most parents. Making it easier for parents to gain access to teachers, it was felt, would lead to increased contact and early identification of issues and concerns. Participants in the parent focus group also noted that sharing attendance data regularly and promptly was important as it would allow parents to respond proactively and support initiatives under consideration by the school.

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Papatoetoe Intermediate, Auckland

Papatoetoe Intermediate, located in South Auckland, is one of the largest intermediate schools in New Zealand with a roll of 865. It is a decile 3 school that has seen a dramatic change in student composition over the last 5 years – from around 90% Pākehā in 2005 to the current mix of around 35% Indian, 22% Māori, 35% Pasifika, and 8% Pākehā. These events have led the school to take a multi-ethnic approach to recruitment of teaching staff and membership of Board of Trustees. The main intention of the school is to offer students positive, strong role models from their own community.

Vision and philosophy

The changing profile of the school had led the school to place strong emphasis on citizenship, respect and courtesy between students, between students and teachers and the wider community. The school vision is to:

  • Provide a safe, caring environment that respects the differing cultures in New Zealand and is exemplified by school practices and programmes. All aspects of our multi-cultural school are celebrated and valued.

The school was also strongly data driven as this ensured that the strategies devised were underpinned by quality evidence. The belief was that by gaining useful data in an ongoing way, families and staff were likely to value the feedback provided and this in turn would deepen communication between families and schools. It will create a culture where parents will no longer be satisfied with ‘fine’ as a response to the question, "how is my child doing?" Access to data will change the conversation so that it becomes more meaningful and results-oriented.

Attendance patterns and trends

Truancy was not seen as a major problem in Papatoetoe Intermediate with only 2-3 reported cases of truancy each year. In these instances transience was seen as the main reason as students from transient households tended to move between homes (as if a parent moved address, the child was often relocated with another family member or taken out of the city for short periods of time). Despite the fact that attendance was not a major problem at the school, the school set attendance target for the school – 95% for each class for each school term. This allowed the school to identify problems and patterns early. The school attempted to gather as much information about the student at the time of enrolment including ringing up the primary school to find out about the child’s attendance pattern and other relevant information. At the intermediate level, a main reason for intermittent attendance and/or truancy was bullying – adjusting to intermediate school culture and systems was often difficult for children and staff were particularly ‘tuned in’ to pick up early signs of withdrawal or lack of engagement.

Strategies for managing non-attendance

The school principal was of the view that there was no reason not to attend school and took absences quite seriously. However, the school had a high proportion of migrant students and these parents tended to return home for holidays at certain times of the year which often did not coincide with New Zealand holidays – these instances presented a dilemma for the school. The school did not support families taking holidays during the school year and wrote to parents explaining that they were breaking the law. However the school did not take this any further and reported them to the truancy service. Papatoetoe principals group are collectively considering reviewing their response to this trend from 2011.

The school took a strength-based approach and focused strongly on encouraging good behaviour through reward and recognition rather than punitive measures. There was a strong focus on early intervention and the school secretary had the formal responsibility to monitor all absenteeism. The secretary followed up each instance with teachers, parents and students. The passion and drive of this individual was key to the school’s success and current low levels of truancy in the school.

Proactive strategies

The strategies used by the school to promote attendance included:

  • creating an exciting and engaging school environment where:
    • Teachers developed positive relationship with each and every child in the school – the staff knew each child by name and felt this was critical to demonstrating values expected of the child, that is, respect and courtesy.
    • Staff shared knowledge about the students and discussed how they could work together to shift attitudes and behaviours.
    • Staff gathered information about parents and used this to inform when developing their strategies for each child.
  • rewarding and recognising high attendance – teachers with high attendance were recognised in the school bulletin and students with three consecutive terms of full attendance received a certificate
  • establishing three-way communication between teachers, students and parents
  • matching ethnic diversity of the teaching staff to the student population – a deliberate strategy adopted by the school
  • strengthening behavioural management systems – the school introduced a points system linking attendance, behaviour and homework and the student could use the points accrued towards attendance at the end-of-year school dance and dinner.

Reactive strategies

The range of reactive strategies used by the school was similar to those used by schools in the survey as well as other case studies. The school had a strong electronic data gathering system which allowed the teachers to pass information about attendance early to the school secretary and this ensured that non-attendance was followed up quite early. The family/caregiver was notified immediately and if no notification was received by the school for three days, the school passed the details onto the local District Truancy Service . The syndicate teacher as well as the class teacher also received information and summary of the attendance record for their classroom each term. This allowed the teacher to monitor and keep track of student attendance in an ongoing way.

Student voice

The students were invited to share their views, observations and experiences with the school through a collage. Analysis of the images used in the collage through conversations with the students revealed that students have positive experiences with the school and describe it as a fun place to learn. Students said they enjoyed all aspects of the school life – they enjoyed spending time with friends as well as engaging in sporting and other cultural events. Other values and qualities of the school that were identified by students included:

  • the emphasis the school placed on respect - between teachers and students and between students themselves
  • the emphasis placed by the school on student individuality and independent thinking
  • multiculturalism of the school and the student’s pride in this.

From the student’s perspective the reasons for non-attendance were:

  • bullying and/or challenging relationships between students
  • difficult relationships between teacher and certain students
  • boredom
  • poor academic achievement and therefore feeling de-motivated and discouraged.

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Victory Primary School, Nelson

Towards a school-based integration of services for family wellbeing and community development

Victory Primary School, based in the suburb of Victory, Nelson is a decile three school with a student roll that has registered a dramatic increase - from 285 in 2006 to 440 in 2010. The school is culturally diverse (Māori: 38%; Pākehā: 35%; Asians: 22%; Pasifika: 4%; and Others 1%) and offers six bilingual classes. The principal and staff interviewed observed that in the mid-1990s the school was ‘in a mess’, within a community that was also in a mess. For the school, there were issues with student achievement, particularly for Māori, low attendance and a high roll turnover, student behaviour problems, low school reputation and community disengagement from the school, teaching quality issues and a teacher-centred staff culture that marginalised children, and staff with low morale who were working in a reactive, crisis oriented environment. These issues strengthened the principal’s resolve to change the status quo.

At this time, the Social Worker in Schools programme, funded by government in 2000 was introduced and this programme provided the school principal with a much needed opportunity to reflect collectively with his staff and the wider community on the issues facing the school. The visioning process that the community embarked on provided a strong impetus for change leading to the creation of the Victory Village model of school-based integration of health, education, social and community services for promoting family wellbeing and community development more generally. The school has since grown and developed into a hub for the community, with over 20 agencies on site.

Vision and philosophy

All those interviewed described the school vision and philosophy in a consistent way, suggesting a high level of ownership of the vision statement. Enrolling the family, not just the child, was central to the whānau-centric approach adopted by the school and reflected the belief that the family and the school needed to work together if desired levels of improvements in behavioural and educational outcomes were to be achieved. In keeping with this vision, the school had an open door policy where parents and/or caregivers could drop by to visit any member of staff or the school principal without prior appointment.

The principal was also committed to looking at behaviours of staff in the school and inclined towards shifting from a them and us dynamic between staff and parents towards a them with us. This mutual accountability approach involved looking at both the needs and potential of the school and community and the emergence of a commitment to start working more collaboratively with parent and agencies and services. In addition the school has Māori, Pasifika and Asian representatives on the school board as well as having co-opted community liaison officers as observers on the board to ensure alignment in communication at all levels in the school. The school’s motto "Everyone matters" has led to a strong ethos of relationships and networks and harnessing these to deliver positive outcomes for students.

Attendance trends and patterns

The school currently has a 94-95% attendance rate. The principal was of the view that since the roll had grown, attendance had taken a dip and the school was working with the new cohort of parents and students to respond to this pattern. Punctuality was an ongoing issue at the school and arose due to shared custody arrangements; transport issues; housing issues; poverty and sickness. Most people interviewed did not regard the school as experiencing a truancy problem. The general view of staff and principal was that no child wanted to truant and that any pattern of non-attendance was due to parental disengagement. Therefore it was seen as the school’s responsibility to convey expectations of attendance clearly to parents – through parent evenings; newsletters; parent-teacher meetings - as students had to be at school to learn.

Strategies for managing non-attendance

Proactive strategies

The key focus of the school for dealing with non-attendance was to create a positive and fun learning environment for students at school. This would encourage students to attend and would allow students to exert some pressure on their parents to take them to school. The range of proactive strategies used by the school included the following:

  • three community liaison officers who acted as a bridge between the school and the wider community (the officers were representative of the ethnic mix of the school) lifting the profile and visibility of the school in the wider community through participating at community and council organised events (eg, race unity day; umu or hangi day)
  • establishing a student council where members are given a Victory t-shirt
  • family fun night where students and their families socialise and participate in a range of recreational events (eg, quiz)
  • purchase of cheap bikes to address transport issues for the child – with prior permission the student can borrow the bike to get to and from school for a specified period
  • extending collegial support and sharing responsibility across teachers – this created an environment where teachers could discuss specific students and share information to help develop solutions
  • rebranding regular school events to make it more enticing – for instance, parent-teacher meetings are framed as celebrate learning which created greater interest from parents; healthy eating programme was delivered by children cooking for the parents and this inevitably led to greater interest from parents
  • uniform for kids - uniforms were seen as a great connector and enhanced the child’s sense of belonging to the school. Both school and parents felt that the introduction of uniforms had been a positive step for the school.

The school principal, keen on evaluating the effectiveness of these strategies, was exploring the possibility of establishing a longitudinal monitoring of the students who leave his school to move into the local intermediate and secondary schools. In his view the monitoring data would provide the robust evidence needed to reassure himself, parents and staff that Victory students did have a strong pattern of attendance and work ethic; were engaged learners and achieving their full potential. The idea was still in its infancy and the principal was yet to gain agreement from the nearby intermediate and secondary school for this approach.

Reactive strategies

The school roll was marked by 9.15 a.m. every school morning and the register was returned to the school office. Each absence was followed up by staff at the administration desk and information or reasons stated was recorded and passed onto the principal and the relevant staff member. The school also has an answer phone to allow parents to ring and leave messages notifying the school of the child’s absence. In some instances the staff member visited the home to assist the parent in bringing the child to school, particularly if there was a transport issue.

Student voice

Two focus groups were conducted with students from the school ranging from year 4 to year 6. In total 16 students participated and offered their comments and feedback on the school. The findings were supportive of the overall trend observed in the school and revealed that the school’s focus on teaching and learning was indeed its main strength. The collage put together by the students of Victory showed that the school was a fun, engaging and family-centric place. In addition the pictures emphasised the following attributes and values of the school:

  • oriented towards learning (eg, 27+38 =65)
  • strong sense of pride in the school (images of ‘v’ for Victory; ‘world’s best school’)
  • focus on healthy eating; clean environment
  • strong sense of family and community spirit – conveyed through the images of large groups and pictures of families engaging in group activities
  • good teachers
  • strong sense of sharing and togetherness; collegiality and team work.

Parent voice

The parent focus group supported the findings from the interviews with the school principal and staff members and the students. Parents highlighted the school’s open door policy and its growing reputation and visibility in the wider community. The general sense was that Victory children were well regarded in the community and were often invited to participate in a range of different activities including race unity day, Matariki, Pasifika Umu day, ANZAC day, fundraising for various community and social service organisations.

Parents talked about the transformation of public perception of Victory from a community that was seen as poor and unsafe to one that was vibrant and friendly and culturally diverse. This had led some of the parents to actively seek out the school even though they were not zoned. Access to the community centre was another strong feature of the school providing a hub for parents to access a range of government agencies as well as participate in a range of health and well being related activities (eg, yoga; zumba; adult education classes).

Content last updated: 21 May 2015