Tips for parents and whānau

Tips for parents header

Who is responsible for school attendance?

Our tamariki need to feel like school is a safe community where they belong and can thrive. Improving the attendance of most students is largely our responsibility as parents and caregivers, working with schools and kura.

Schools and kura are responsible for taking all the steps they can to ensure our tamariki are not only attending but are engaged and actively involved, and their schools are places where ākonga and their whānau feel like they belong. In our research with parents, you told us that one of the keys to improve attendance is to have stronger connections and involvement between yourselves and your local school. 

Ensuring regular attendance and engagement for all our young people is a complex issue. We know it’s not a quick fix and will require a whole-of-government and community-wide approach to re-engage children and young people in learning following COVID-19. 

Why are you encouraging kids back to school when we have winter illnesses?

Attendance has been in decline since 2015 - before COVID-19. However, with the additional impact of a global pandemic, we know that schools need to offer more support and reassurance to those of you who have been reluctant to return to school regularly. 

Specifically, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education strongly recommend that all schools and kura amend their mask policy for the first four weeks of Term 3 to recommend mask wearing indoors for students Year 4 and above, where it will not have a significant impact on teaching and learning. 

Wider access to the flu vaccine this year also aims to provide more of us with an extra layer of protection against winter flu.

However, if your tamariki are sick, they should stay home and limit the spread of illnesses.

What if there is no public transport available to get my child to school?

The primary responsibility for transporting children to and from school rests with us as parents and caregivers. 

If you need help to get your child to school, talk to your local school in the first instance. Te Mahau may be able to help where distance and/or accessibility may be a barrier for your child attending the closest state or state-integrated school at which they can enrol.

Does my child have to go to school every day?

Yes. Under the Education and Training Act 2020, parents and carers of school children up to 16 years old can be prosecuted if their child is away from school without a good reason. 

However, if your tamariki are sick, they should stay home and limit the spread of illnesses.

What about my five-year-old?

Even though you don’t legally have to enrol your child at school until they turn six, most children in New Zealand start school when they are five.

Once your child has started school, they need to attend every day. School used to be compulsory from age six, but the law changed in July 2017, and now children need to attend every day from when they first start school.

If your child is going to be away from school for any reason you should always follow the school’s process to let them know. They also need to know the reason that your child is away.

If your child doesn’t turn up to school they will be concerned for their safety. If the school doesn’t hear from you, they may get in touch with you to make sure your child is okay.

What if my child needs to be away from school?

Your child should go to school every day. But sometimes they might need to be away from school because they are too sick to attend, have an appointment or need to be at a tangi or funeral.

If your child is going to be away from school you should let the school know as soon as possible. Check what your school’s process is for letting them know about absences. You will need to let them know that your child will be away, why and for how long.

Your child’s safety and wellbeing is a priority for the school. If your child doesn’t turn up to school they will be concerned for their safety. If the school doesn’t hear from you, they will get in touch with you to make sure your child is okay.

If your child is going to be away for several days, you may want to talk to their teacher about getting some work to do while they are away.

Can I take my child out of school during term time to go on holiday?

No, while we all enjoy a break as a whānau, a holiday is not a good enough reason to take your child out of school, so holidays should be planned outside of term times.

Events like a birthday or a special day’s shopping aren’t considered valid reasons for being away from school either.

What’s a good way to ask my child how their school day was and not get blanked?

  • Ask them about a moment in their day when they felt excited about what they were learning.
  • What’s a question they have that came from their learning today?
  • Ask them if there were any moments today when they felt proud of themselves
  • Ask them to tell you about a conversation they had with a classmate or friend
  • Ask them what was challenging or fun about their day?
  • Ask them what they learned about themself today?
  • Ask them what they are most looking forward to tomorrow?

What if my child is often off school sick?

If your child misses a lot of school because of a serious illness you may be able to get help from a regional health school. 

There are three regional health schools, based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Together they service the whole country, including remote areas. The teachers can work with children both at home and in hospital.

You can contact them directly:

Northern Health School

Phone 0800 153 002

Central Regional Health School

Phone 0800 153 000

Southern Regional Health School

Phone 03 366 6739

What can I do to make sure my child is going to school?

To make school a priority, there are things you can do at home, and things you can work alongside the school on:

  • talk to your children about why it is important to go to school every day – ask them what they want to be in the future. Their education is the key to doing well in life
  • be positive about school
  • set good habits about going to school from day one
  • prepare your children the night before for school – have they have done their homework, do they need to take anything along tomorrow?
  • have a consistent good morning routine, so its not too rushed and they have time to get everything they need
  • don't let them have the day off just because they would rather be at home
  • don't keep them at home when you know that they are just nervous about school – talk to your child and talk the school about how they are feeling
  •  check in regularly with your child, listen to what they are telling you or not telling you - this may make it easier to pick up on any worries they have
  • keep family holidays outside of term-time, every day at school is an opportunity to build their knowledge and skills, and repetition is critical for learning – especially for primary school children
  • don’t overload them – school may be exhausting for some children so make sure they have some downtime after school to relax and have a break.

How can I get more involved with the school community?

  • Build a strong relationship with the school and teachers to improve communication – it’s easier to talk to them if a problem arises.
  • Get involved with the school – volunteer for parent help, go on school trips, help out on the PTA. It helps you to get to know the teacher and the school, and it shows your child that you prioritise their schooling.
  • Learn your school’s process for letting them know about absences, and contact them as soon as you know your child is not going to be at school that day.
  • Talk to the teacher or principal if your child is reluctant to go to school, and work together to problem solve.

What can I do if my child refuses to go to school?

This can be really upsetting. Talk to your child about why they don’t want to go. And be supportive. 

There may be a reason, like: 

  • not getting on with some of the other children
  • bullying
  • feeling too much pressure in their learning
  • a health issue, like wetting their pants
  • a problem with their teacher or other staff member.
  • inflexibility around learning.

Talk to your child’s teacher or principal. Whatever the reason, you won’t be the first parent to talk to the school about that type of situation. Your school will have some good advice, and you’ll be able to work together to help your child. If you have more serious concerns you can contact your local Ministry of Education office.