Showing Up Is Half The Battle

Joel Hernandez
Insights Newsletter
28 September, 2018

Students who skip school are more likely to experience adverse life outcomes.

This is a fact. But it is not the complete story.

Research from the Ministry of Education has found that school truancy is a strong predictor of domestic violence, criminal behaviour, substance abuse, suicidal risk and unemployment.

The statistics and research are not reassuring. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether truancy is the cause of adverse life outcomes or just another adverse life outcome caused by unobserved background characteristics of students.

Principal Virginia Crawford was right when she addressed her students late last week.

Her controversial speech on truancy and its path to domestic violence, unemployment and rape has polarised both students at Fraser High and the wider public. Unfortunately, a few parents and students have taken offence to her speech, missing her point completely.

If you skip class a few times, it does not mean you will never find a job or become addicted to drugs.

But if you do skip class even once then it does mean you are not in school learning English, mathematics and science on that day.

If you skip class regularly, like many students at Fraser High School are, then you are more likely to leave school illiterate and innumerate. If you are illiterate and innumerate then it makes finding a job or going on to further education infinitely more difficult.

While the literature on truancy and later life outcomes is sparse, an abundance of research has concluded that truancy has a negative effect on academic performance.

It does not take rocket science to connect the dots, but it does take basic reading, writing and mathematics.

Principal Crawford made this speech for a reason.

She cares about her students and she can regularly see truant students out on the street smoking and loitering when she leaves school for meetings.

Truancy is not just a problem at Fraser High School, it is a problem for other New Zealand schools too. In 2017, the percentage of students attending school regularly (that is attendance of 90% or greater) has fallen to 63%.

Across decile 4 schools, of which Fraser High School is a part, only 58.9% of students attended school regularly.

Among Maori and Pacifica students, which make up 48% of Fraser High School’s student roll, only 50.6% of students attended school regularly.

These are the numbers that Principal Crawford was and still is worried about. They are numbers we should all be worried about too.

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