Attendance, absence and truancy in New Zealand schools 2006

Publication Details

This report documents the results of a survey conducted in the week of 21 to 25 August 2006 to capture a 'week in the life' of attendance at school in New Zealand. Responses were received from 2,216 schools, representing 91.3% of schools surveyed.

Author(s): Lisa Ng, Research Division, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: June 2007

Executive Summary

In recent years, regular surveys of schools on their students' attendance have been carried out by the Ministry of Education.

The most recent of these was carried out during the week of 21 to 25 August 2006. All state and state integrated schools, excluding private, special schools and Correspondence School, were asked to record information on individual student absence events. For each student absence, the data collection form was designed to capture the day and type of absence, and the year level, gender and ethnicity of the absent student. In the 2006 survey, 2,216 (91.3%) of all state schools participated.

For the purpose of the data collection, absences were classified into one of three types:

Justified Absences Justified absences are absences recorded in the register, and marked as having been satisfactorily explained;
Unjustified Absences Unjustified absences are absences, which are not explained, or not explained to the satisfaction of the school; and
Intermittent Unjustified Absences Intermittent unjustified absences occur when a student is absent for part of a morning (or afternoon) or part of a period without justification.

Data were also presented in terms of:

  • Overall absence, being the sum of the above three absence types; and
  • Truancy, being the sum of unjustified absences and intermittent unjustified absences.

The overall absence and truancy rates are based on the number of absence events (and not on the number of absent students). These rates are calculated with the denominator being the rolls for the participating schools; they relate to an average (mean) daily absence for the week per 100 students.

Key Findings

The main findings were:

On an average daily basis, the 2006 survey indicated an overall absence rate of 11.5 percent with a truancy rate of 4.1 percent. In 2006, the overall absence and truancy rates were higher across all schools compared with 2004. Overall absence rate increased from 9% in 2004 to 11.5% in 2006 ,and truancy rate from 3.4% in 2004 to 4.1% in 2006.

Rates across the different school sectors differed – secondary schools experienced an absence rate of 16.3 percent and a truancy rate of 8.3 percent; composite schools 12.7 percent and 3.5 percent respectively; intermediate schools 8.4 and 2.2 percent; and primary schools 8.9 and 1.9 percent.

The absence rates for males and females were similar and tracked each other closely across all year levels and absence types until students reached secondary school level. From year 10 onwards, unjustified absence rates (including intermittent absences) for females moved to slightly higher levels than for males. Justified absences become notably higher for females from year 10.

The intermittent unjustified absence rates for both males and females increased rapidly during the secondary school years. Males had higher intermittent unjustified absence rates than females at years 12 and 13.

Similar to 2004, in 2006, males attending co-educational schools had a higher overall absence rate than their counterparts in single sex schools from year 9 onwards, largely due to higher incidences of unjustified absences. In relation to truancy, girls in years 9 – 13 in single sex schools had the lowest truancy rate compared with other groups.

Māori and Pasifika students had higher truancy rates when compared with New Zealand European and Asian students, a result also noted in the 2004 report. Unjustified absence was the main factor contributing to the higher truancy rates for Māori and Pasifika students. NZ European and Māori females had higher truancy rates than their male counterparts, while the situation was reversed for Asian and Pasifika students.

The report also looked at absence and truancy rates for Māori students in Kura (including other Immersion) and non-Immersion schools. In 2006, for both primary and composite schools, the overall absence rate was higher for Māori students in Kura and other Immersion schools than for Māori students in non-immersion schools. Truancy rate was also higher for Māori students in primary Kura and other Immersion schools, but the reversed was true for composite schools, where Māori students in non-Immersion schools had a higher truancy rate than Māori students in composite Kura and other Immersion schools.

Similar to past surveys, the most visible trend in the absence data with respect to school decile is the smaller overall absence (13.1% for decile 1 and 8.9% for decile 10) and truancy rates (6.3% for decile 1 and 1.8% for decile 10) in higher decile schools. This was a result of the lower level of unjustified absences observed in higher decile compared to lower decile schools, there being no clear pattern in the justified and intermittent unjustified absences.

Compared to 2004, most regions experienced an increase in absence rates, however, the absence rates for the Hawkes Bay and Canterbury regions remained consistent, and the Wellington region had a lower absence rate in 2006 than in 2004. In 2006, the Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Nelson and West Coast regions had higher truancy rates compared with the national average (4.1%). The Nelson region had the highest overall absence rate (14.5%), and the Bay of Plenty (5.8%) and Gisborne (5.7%) regions experienced the highest truancy rates.

Similar to 2004, overall absence and truancy rates were lowest in rural areas, the contributing factors being lower unjustified and intermittent unjustified absences when compared with schools in other localities.

School size was not an important factor related to truancy among full and contributing primary schools in 2006. For intermediate schools, larger intermediate schools tended to have lower truancy rates than smaller ones. In 2006, truancy rates for both types of secondary schools (year 7-15 and year 9-15) were similar for schools with 100-250 students and schools with 251-500 students, however, like intermediate schools, the truancy rates decreased for both these types of secondary schools when there were more than 500 students.

This report investigates the nature and distribution of absence in New Zealand both at a school level and at a student level. The findings have been an integral part of the Ministry's ongoing policy planning and development in relation to student engagement, identifying national trends and areas where further support is needed.

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