Encouraging school attendance

It is no surprise that the New Zealand Ministry of Education (2021) states that “student attendance and engagement are critical factors relating to student achievement”. This is also our experience at Riccarton High School.

The Ministry of Education (2020) defines ‘regular attendance’ as “students attending school for more than 90% of available half-days”. 

A 90% attendance rate still might mean a student is missing school for an average of one day each fortnight. 

We believe that this is too much as we want to support our students to be successful in their learning through the Riccarton Way values of: Manawanui/Commitment; Ngākapono/Honesty; Manaakitanga/Respect; and Kairangi/Excellence.

In a November 2020 article for Stuff, Kate Newton reported alarming figures about falling school attendance in New Zealand. At Riccarton High School we are pleased that our attendance figures remain higher than the national averages overall.

Table: Riccarton High School, Term 1, 2021 Attendance Data: this data captures all justified and unjustified reasons for time out of regular timetabled classes in term 1 including: student absence due to sickness or family reasons, sports and class trips, camps at Orohaki.

For some individual students in our school, however, the ‘habit of attendance’ seems not to be well established. These students’ absences are usually explained, and therefore appear to be supported, by their parents and caregivers.

Regular school attendance is an important life skill that will help your teen achieve success at school, set them up well for tertiary courses, and keep a job. Absences can be a sign that a teen is losing interest, struggling with their school work, or facing some other difficulty.

What can parents and caregivers do?

In his well-known Visible Learning research, John Hattie (2009) states that “parental aspirations and expectations for children’s educational achievement has the strongest relationship with achievement” (p. 70).

We have adapted these tips from www.attendanceworks.org

Prioritise school attendance:

  • Talk about the importance of showing up to school on time everyday and make that the expectation.
  • Help your young person maintain daily routines, such as finishing homework and getting a good night’s sleep. Limiting ‘screen time’ in the evenings can help young people sleep better.
  • Encourage them to get their lunch ready and pack their bag each evening if things are a bit rushed in your house in the morning.
  • Try not to schedule dental and medical appointments during the school day.
  • Book family trips and holidays only on weekends or during term breaks (these are always ‘unjustified’ absences from school if they happen on school days).
  • We are being particularly cautious with COVID-19 - but don’t keep your child home unless they are sick.

Help your teen stay engaged:

  • Find out if your young person feels engaged by their classes and feels safe and happy at school. Our fortnightly reports might provide a good opportunity to ‘check in’ on how they are going.
  • Help them to manage their time and commitments. Assist them to diary or calendar events and assessments and to plan how they will make these work.
  • Use the parent portal to track academic progress and attendance.
  • Stay on top of your young person’s social contacts and know who their friends are. Peer pressure can lead to skipping school, while students without many friends can feel isolated.
  • Encourage meaningful participation in co-curricular and afterschool activities, including clubs, groups and sports.

Communicate with the school:

  • Refresh your knowledge of our attendance and absence procedures from our website: https://www.riccarton.school.nz/absences/
  • Make contact with your young person’s whānau teacher if you notice sudden changes in behaviour as these could be tied to something going on at school.
  • Let the whānau teacher know if there is something happening at home, or with a student’s health, if this might impact their attendance.
  • Contact subject teachers if there is a concern in a particular subject. Teachers’ email addresses are included in each fortnightly report.

What are the legal obligations?

Section 20 of the Education Act (1989) states that “New Zealand citizens and residents between 6 and 16 must be enrolled at registered school”

Section 25 states that “students required to enrol must attend school”

Section 34 places the burden of proving enrolment and attendance on parents

● The school is required to record every period of attendance and absence and we must use the Ministry of Education’s Attendance Codes

● The school is required by the Ministry of Education to take action whenever students are not attending school. This includes, for example, sending text messages when we have unexplained absences and/or arranging meetings with caregivers to learn about any issues. School actions might also include making referrals to Attendance Services (sometimes commonly referred to as the ‘Truancy Service’) when a student's attendance drops below ‘regular attendance’ due to unexplained or unjustified absences.

Why is this important?

Riccarton High School’s vision is to be “a forward-thinking school aiming to prepare our diverse student community for a rapidly changing world by equipping them with the relevant skills, a global perspective, and the ability to embrace our core values associated with Te Wairua o Pūtaringamotu. Students will experience success today and will be prepared for tomorrow.”

Having all of our students attend every one of their classes, on time, and ready to learn helps us make this vision into a reality for your young person. We greatly value our partnership with our students’ whānau in keeping young people engaged in their education.


Attendance Works. (2018). Pay attention to attendance: Keep your child on track in middle and high school.https://www.attendanceworks.org/resources/handouts-for-families/

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.

Ministry of Education. (2015). Attendance code list 2015.https://www.education.govt.nz/assets/Documents/School/Running-a-school/Technology-in-schools/technical-info/Attendance-Codes-2015-A4.pdf

Ministry of Education. (2020). New Zealand schools attendance survey: Term 2, 2019. Ministry of Education.https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/series/2503/new-zealand-schools-attendance-survey-term-2,-2019

Ministry of Education. (2021). Education Counts. Ministry of Education.https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/indicators/main/student-engagement-participation/stand-downs-suspensions-exclusions-expulsions

New Zealand Government. (2020). Education Act 1989 No 80 (as at 01 August 2020), Public Act Contents – New Zealand Legislation.https://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0080/latest/DLM175959.html#DLM178240

Newton. (2020, November 28). Marked Absent: The attendance freefall in New Zealand’s schools | Stuff.co.nz.https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/123514144/marked-absent-the-attendance-freefall-in-new-zealands-schools

Pacheco, D. (2021, February 4). How screen time may cause insomnia in teens. Sleep Foundation.https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep/screen-time-and-insomnia-for-teens

Riccarton High School. (2021). Riccarton High School » Attendance.https://www.riccarton.school.nz/absences/