5000 children ‘slip through the cracks’
By LANE NICHOLS – The Dominion Post | Tuesday, 11 December 2007
TheEducation Ministry has uncovered a lost tribe of 5000 children it admits have “slipped through the cracks” and are not enrolled at any school.
Officials concede the non-enrolment figures – detected by the Government’s new computerised enrolment tracking system – are much worse than anyone had thought.
The situation is likely to be shown to be worse once data from primary schools is added to the mix of intermediate and secondary pupils.
The Government is vowing to crack down on truancy in the wake of the revelations, with the ministry preparing to prosecute parents who have not enrolled their children.
Truancy services have swung into overdrive to find the children and get them back to class.
“There’s a lot of people all right – no mistake about it. We certainly take it very seriously,” the ministry’s education management policy manager, Martin Connelly, said.
The missing pupils were revealed in briefing notes to incoming Education Minister Chris Carter. He was not available to comment last night.
The notes say that, since the $4.5 million Web-based Enrol system – which replaced the old paper-based system – was implemented nationally this year, officials have learnt of “a much larger number of students who are not enrolled”.
New ways to measure truancy are being developed and attendance regulations are being redrafted, the briefing says.
Under the Education Act, every child must be enrolled at school till the age of 16. If a pupil is permanently excluded for serious misconduct, they must be re-enrolled at another school or education provider such as the Correspondence School.
Schools can prosecute parents whose children do not attend, though prosecutions are rare and the maximum fine for the first offence is only $150.
About 30,000 pupils are estimated to cut class each week.
Mr Connelly said the new system had had a profound effect on the ministry’s understanding of long-term non-enrolment and the number of children who had “fallen out of all schools and are not attending”.
“We certainly use the expression `slipped through the cracks’. I’m quite convinced that unless we actually did something these kids would not be getting back into school by themselves.”
The revelations justified the Government’s multimillion-dollar investment in Enrol, which was helping truancy services to identify and deal with absent children much more quickly than in the past.
“The ministry has already seen reductions in the time taken to resolve non-enrolment notifications and the average time a student spends not enrolled at school.”
The briefing papers also highlight concerns about the number of pupils under-achieving academically or dropping out without qualifications, and the need to keep pupils in school longer to boost educational outcomes and their chances of gaining higher qualifications.
National Party education spokeswoman Katherine Rich said the new non-enrolment figures were “deeply disturbing”. Prosecution rates were too low, but sent a clear message to parents.