Wednesday, February 28, 2024

School attendance is key

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Prime Minister Christopher Luxon wants to see more Kiwi kids regularly attending school. File photo supplied
  • By Christopher Luxon, Prime Minister and the MP for Botany

This week, a new school year begins for tens of thousands of students across the country.

It can be a joyful time for many. Kids are reunited with friends and classmates after the summer break and parents can finally catch their breath after a long shift of full-time parenting.

Despite the respite the school term brings for many, education has been an issue I’ve been immensely concerned about since I entered politics three years ago.

If this year is like the recent past, too many students will be back in school less often than they should.

School attendance records have been declining for several years.

In Term 3 of last year, just 46 per cent of all students attended school regularly.

Sadly, this figure is even worse for Māori and Pacific students.

It comes at a time when educational achievement in New Zealand has been falling.

A couple of weeks ago, provisional NCEA results showed that pass rates had dropped across the board for a third consecutive year.

This is one of many indicators of declining achievement.

The most recent PISA results showed a significant decline in the performance of 15-year-old students in maths compared to 2018.

While New Zealand once ranked in the top 10 OECD nations in maths, science and reading, we have fallen outside the top 10 in all three core subjects.

It sounds grim and, unfortunately, it is. This isn’t what New Zealanders want to hear and it’s not what I want to be saying.

It’s time to tackle these challenges and we are working at pace to bring about change.

This Government has already announced steps to turn around the declining standards.

From the start of this year, schools will have to teach an average of an hour each of reading, writing and maths every day.

We are doing this because these are fundamental skills that unlock the rest of the curriculum.

Students can’t be expected to understand history or social studies without the ability to read a textbook, while economics and business studies require a firm grasp of maths.

Many schools across New Zealand have recognised this and are already teaching an hour of each every day.

However, this is only sometimes the case and this Government wants to ensure that all students have this same opportunity.

Additionally, from the start of Term 2, cell phones will be banned in primary, intermediate and secondary schools across the country.

This is a step that a growing number of schools in New Zealand have already taken and a measure that governments in other parts of the world are taking.

The evidence is clear that banning cell phones in schools not only improves achievement but also positively impacts students’ well-being.

By removing distracting devices, teachers can get on with teaching while students can concentrate on learning.

While we expect these changes to make a meaningful difference to how kids learn in New Zealand, it will only make a difference if children are there every day.

So here’s my message to every parent in New Zealand: thank you to those of you that are getting your kids to school every day.

Every day of school missed has an impact on learning outcomes, and we simply can’t afford to keep going backwards.

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