Thank you for your email

In 2010 I wrote this and every word of it remains true:

Earlier this year [2010] we  had this kind of thing from government:

“This Government is determined to get tough on truancy, and we have doubled the amount of funding to tackle the problem. An additional $4 million per year will help schools introduce stronger and more proactive measures to reduce truancy rates.”


The government  became determined to get tough on truancy because the Ministry of Education released a report on truancy that had the following revelations:

  • Kids wag school
  • About the same as the last survey
  • 18 year olds wag more than 12 year olds
  • Friday is a popular day to wag

I’m glad we have people at the Ministry tied up with compiling this kind of stuff because it really is gold.  Perhaps the Ministry of Labour could do similar research on workplaces.  I wonder if that study would find that:

  • People have sickies
  • Friday is a good day for a sickie
  • Or Monday

The second half of the truancy report has further illuminating information:

  • Kids from low-income areas wag
  • Asians don’t wag, but Pacific Islanders and Maori do
  • People wag heaps in Gisborne; not so much in Otago-Southland

Huh.  It’s almost as if the truancy of some students  is exacerbated by generational poverty and parental role models with negative educational experiences and low-income jobs or welfare dependency.  At least that’s what I would conclude from the report.  Let’s see what policy the Government came up with to address this:

  • allowing more schools to use electronic attendance registers, enabling them to quickly identify casual truants before they become regular truants;

  • encouraging more schools to implement the Early Notification System, which automatically sends a text message to parents whose children are missing from school without explanation

Funny thing is that over the last couple of years our school has implemented both of these things.  We do our rolls on the computer, and we send automated texts to the parents of students who are marked absent.  What kind of impact has this had?

I think I could say that it has enabled the staff  in our office to get more abuse.  Sometimes the parents of hard-core truants text abuse back, sometimes they telephone and leave abusive messages.   Those that hang on to the same cellphone number for more than a month that is, because, of course, the whole system is predicated on the kind of parent who will give you reliable contact information, and will up date it, and will actually want to be contacted.


Problem: “truancy of some students  is exacerbated by generational poverty and parental role models with negative educational experiences and low income jobs or welfare dependency”

Solution: Automated text system.

Still, it makes a good headline: “Getting Tough on Truancy.”  Well, better than “Wasting Money on Pointless Text System Easier than Trying to Address Real Issues”, which I think we can all agree is a terrible headline.


In 2014 I am trying to refer someone to the truancy service.  They have been truant since day one of Term One.  Their form teacher had a good relationship with the student, visited her home, tried to get her into sport, investigated getting funding for some boots… you know, all the good stuff.  Once this was clearly not going to work I got our social workers involved.  They acted straight away.  After some applications we got her on to a special programme with another agency that does great work and is really hands on and intensive.  Now she is wagging that.  They asked me to refer her to the truancy service.

I needed a log in.  I applied.  They didn’t get back to me.  I asked them what was up.  They sent me log in info but I was busy that day and when I tried to use it the log in info had expired.  I applied again and logged in successfully.  Once logged in I couldn’t for the life of me find the place where I could make a referral.  I went on the Min Ed website and watched a 15 minute video on how to use the service that didn’t tell you where to find the log in page.  Eventually I found a pdf with the website url on which was protected so you couldn’t copy the url but had to type it out (it was very, very long).  I logged in, and went to the right page.  The referral form went on and on and on asking for increasingly specific details that I didn’t have because I was doing the referral for another agency.  I logged out so I could get the info.  When I logged back in it blocked me.  After I had calmed down I sent an email to the help centre.  Four minutes later I received this response:


Which is fine I suppose except if you read to the bottom: “We get the job done”, “We work together for maximum impact”, “Great results are our bottom line.”

My desire to do something very unpleasant to the people who wrote this is very high.  I asked a fellow dean what her experience was like.  She told me that once she had managed to log all of this complex information into the system she discovered that all that went to the solitary truancy officer for our region was the name of the student, and that truancy officer was based in Wainuiomata and would send some texts but didn’t have the time or resources to do visits.

To sum up, after four years:

Problem: “truancy of some students  is exacerbated by generational poverty and parental role models with negative educational experiences and low-income jobs or welfare dependency”

Solution: Text system with elaborate, time-consuming referral system added on.

Great results are our bottom line.


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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

8 thoughts on “Thank you for your email”

  1. This is the important thing. If the stats are good everything will be fine. Maybe we should just unenroll all the students we think will get below a merit before the exam?

  2. Showing your age?

    I don’t remember that, but I do remember when a house only had one phone, and it was attached to the wall, and had a rotary dial. My cellphone is so old that when I get it out students think I am holding a calculator.

  3. I am tempted to make up a meaning for this acronym (don’t fly to brazil alone?) but suspect I would be wrong.

  4. JP, well done.
    It sounds like you are finally becoming as cynical as the rest of us.
    I heard a rumour that since the beloved government have cut the Truancy service budget again, they’ve made the web service increasingly difficult and useless, so as to cut down referrals. BUT, it makes their stats look better.

  5. Remember when we used to make a call and someone at the switchboard would answer the phone, connect us with the party we wanted or take a message for us? Technology certainly has improved our lives.

    At least your government is not blaming you for the truancy. In most of the U.S. truancy is taken as evidence against the school in general, the teacher in particular. Better teachers have better attendance.

  6. That sounds so frustrating! Lip-service government programs seem to be the only kind these days. I recently learned that my provincial government is committing $100 million to aid the ailing horse racing industry. Even though the very thought of such wasted expenditure gives me hives, my jaded brain reminds me that I’d be just as put out were that money put into establishing a well-intentioned but non-functional government employment program – or education program. At least we can be thankful that dedicated and conscientious people such as yourself have not yet been entirely discouraged from keeping up the fight.

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