Truancy from school

What We Have Found

Unjustified absence rates have not significantly changed since 2004 and remain substantially higher among Māori and Pasifika students.

Date Updated: December 2013

Indicator Description

The average number of unjustified absences per day per 100 students (truancy rate). 

Why This Is Important

Students who are truant or, more precisely, are unjustifiably absent from class have an increased risk of alienation from the education system. 

Sustained truancy affects educational achievement and can lead to significantly diminished opportunities later in life.  A New Zealand study (Hughes, 1999) found student attendance during Year 11 to be one of the most significant variables influencing student achievement in senior secondary school.  Furthermore, truants with lower reading achievement had the highest risks for adverse outcomes.  Longitudinal studies of Christchurch and Dunedin children have found truancy to be a strong predictor of violence later in life, and anticipatory of delinquency, substance abuse, suicidal risk, unemployment and early parenting.  There is conservable concern surrounding the links between truancy and crime.

A 2001 report from the UK Office of Standards in Education noted that a focus on truancy alone is insufficient to sustain changes in student attendance.  It found that strategies that have effectively improved attendance and behaviour in English schools have been incorporated in conjunction with efforts to raise achievement.

How We Are Going

Unjustified absences are absences that cannot be explained or that are not explained to the satisfaction of the school. Unjustified absences can be classified by length as either intermittent absences (up to half a day) or non-intermittent absences (more than half a day). In this indicator we only consider non-intermittent absences.

Figure 1: Unjustified non-intermittent absence rates, by year level (2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2012)
  1. This measure relates to the number of days that individuals had unjustified absences.

In 2012, the non-intermittent absence rate was 2.3 out of 100 students.  As students in higher year levels are more likely to be truant than students in lower year levels, when comparing absence rates between different cohorts we tend to use year level standardised rates, or look at all ages as in the graph above.  Standardising by year level undercuts any disparity caused by one cohort having a younger or older student population than another.

Figure 2: Unjustified non-intermittent absence rates, by school type (2012)
  1. Composite includes restricted composite.
  2. Secondary (Years 9-15) includes teen parent units.

The 2012 rate of 2.3 was very similar to the Year Level standardised rates per 100 students of the four previous attendance surveys in 2004 (2.1 per 100), 2006 (2.3 per 100), 2009 (2.3 per 100) and 2011 (2.3 per 100).

Unjustified non-intermittent absence rates for primary and intermediate school-aged students (Year 1 to Year 8) are substantially lower than for secondary school-aged students.  The unjustified absences rate further increases progressing into higher year levels at secondary school.

Ethnicity is a significant factor with regard to unjustified absences from school.  Māori (4 per 100 students) and Pasifika (3.4 per 100 students) unjustified non-intermittent rates are over twice high as the European/Pākehā rate (1.6 per 100 students).  The rate is lowest among Asian (1.3 per 100 students).

There is a clear correlation between the socio-economic makeup of a school and its unjustified absence rate.  Schools in the lowest quintile (deciles 1 and 2) draw their students from communities with the highest degree of socio-economic disadvantage.  In 2012 the non-intermittent absence rate for students from these schools was more than 4 times higher than the rate for students in the highest quintile (deciles 9 and 10).

Figure 3: Unjustified non-intermittent absence rates, by quintile (2012)

There was very little overall difference between female and male rates (2.3 and 2.2 per 100 students). The 2012 Year 1s had a non-intermittent rate of 1.9 absences per 100 students for both genders. There was a greater difference in unjustified absences between the genders in secondary school, with the non-intermittent rate being 3.8 for females and 3.2 for males in Year 12 and 4.8 for females and 4.6 for males in year 13.


The Ministry of Education has established an Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme to systematically identify, evaluate, analyse, synthesise and make accessible, relevant evidence linked to a range of learner outcomes. Evidence about what works for this indicator can be found in:

  • Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  • Biddulph, F., Biddulph, J. and Biddulph, C. (2003). The Complexity of Community and Family Influences on Children's Achievement in New Zealand: Best Evidence Synthesis Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  • Cosgrave, R., Bishop, F. and Bennie, N (2003).  Attendance and Absences in New Zealand Schools. Wellington, Ministry of Education.
  • Fergusson, D., Lynskey, M. and Horwood, L.J. (1995).  Truancy in adolescence. NZJLS, 30(1), 25-37.
  • Hughes, D., Lauder, H., Robinson, T., Simiyu, I., Watson, S., Strathdee, R. and Hamlin, J. (1999).  Do Schools Make a Difference?: Hierarchical Linear Modelling of School Certificate Results in 23 Schools: The Smithfield Project, Phase Three: Eighth Report to the Ministry of Education. Wellington.
  • Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S. and Chrostowski, S.J. (Eds.) (2004).  TIMSS 2003 Technical Report. Chestnut Hill, MA: International Study Center, Boston College.
  • Martin, M.O., Mullis, I.V.S., Gonzalez, E.J. and Chrostowski, S.J. (2004).  TIMSS 2003 International Science Report: Findings from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at the Fourth and Eighth Grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: International Study Center, Boston College. McAlpine, D., Burke, R., Walker, R. and McIlroy, A. (1998).  Evaluation of the 1996/1997 District Truancy Services. Palmerston North, Palmerston North Assessment Services
  • Ministry of Education (2013).  Attendance in New Zealand Schools in 20. Wellington, Ministry of Education.
  • UK Office of Standards in Education, (2001).  Improving Attendance and Behaviour in Secondary Schools: Strategies to Promote Educational Inclusion. London, Office for Standards in Education.

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