He Whakaaro: School attendance and student wellbeing

Publication Details

Student wellbeing is a key priority of the education system, as well as the government as a whole. The government’s new Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy aims to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child. One important measure of student wellbeing is whether students are participating in education. Non-attendance at school might be predictive of barriers to wellbeing that exist for students (for example, being bullied at school, or issues at home), and non-attendance might also make future wellbeing worse (missing out on learning might make students less engaged with the content they are learning, as well as with students, teachers and the school community).

Unlike other aspects of wellbeing, student attendance is one area in which the education system collects regular and detailed data on outcomes for students. This raises the question of whether, in addition to directly measuring engagement and participation, attendance might also be a useful proxy measure for other aspects of wellbeing. This paper aims to explore the relationships between school attendance and other aspects of wellbeing (including experiences of anxiety, belonging, bullying, motivation, and unfair treatment), including whether observed attendance can be a useful indication of a student’s wellbeing in other domains.

Author(s): Alexandra McGregor and Andrew Webber, Education, Data and Knowledge, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: February 2020


This paper examines relationships between self-reported truancy and other indicators of student wellbeing, including schoolwork-related anxiety, sense of belonging, exposure to bullying, motivation and experiences of teacher unfairness. The paper uses data from the PISA 2015 survey of 15 year old students. We found that students who report skipping a greater number of school days in the preceding fortnight report worse average outcomes for these measures of wellbeing. However, we also found that attendance by itself is not a strong predictor of other aspects of wellbeing, but neither are the other measures of wellbeing in the report. This suggests that the aspects of wellbeing discussed in this paper operate somewhat independently of one another.

Key findings

The report finds:

  • Students appear to accurately report their truancies via the self-reported survey in PISA.
  • Skipping a greater number of school days over the preceding fortnight predicts worse average wellbeing outcomes.
  • Skipping no days of school over the preceding fortnight is predictive of the best average outcomes for wellbeing.
  • Outcomes for New Zealand students in schoolwork-related anxiety, sense of belonging, and exposure to bullying fall well below the OECD average, regardless of the number of school days skipped.
  • At the individual student level, there is not a strong correlation between truancies and other measures of wellbeing – there are many ‘outlier’ students.
  • The measures of attendance, schoolwork related anxiety, sense of belonging, exposure to bullying, motivation and experiences of teacher unfairness examined here are only weakly related to one another; this suggests that different aspects of student wellbeing operate somewhat independently of one another.

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