Truancy and the Home Schooler/Home Educator

Craig with children and timelineThe law says that a child between the ages of 6 and 16 must be in school (unless they are under 7 and live 3km walking distance from the school or it is not convenient to catch the bus which is under 3km from your home. And for the child under 10: Exemption from attendance.)

So to keep our children at home to educate them, we have to apply for an exemption (see also Effect of exemption).

While we are in the process of applying for an exemption, our child could be six or seven or even older. All correspondence from the MoE must say that our children have to be in school during those ages, because that is the law – and the MoE has to keep within the law. So what can we do?

A problem arises when our exemptions have not been approved by the time our child turns six/seven, or when they are already in school and we want to take them out immediately. There are many reasons why our exemptions may not be approved on time. The MoE does not look at the exemption applications until our children are almost six, and then it can take up to six weeks to get the exemption. If the MoE requires more information, this usually means that our child has turned six and the parents may face a penalty for failure to enrol of $3000.00 if convicted (I have never heard of anyone being fined while applying for an exemption). There are many reasons why those pulling their child/ren out of school want to do that straight away. There may be a bullying problem, or they may have moved and don’t want their child/ren going through the stress of a new school for two or three weeks. It may be after the holidays and the parents want to capitalise on what has been achieved in building up their relationships over that period etc. If convicted of truancy the fine is $30.00 a day and does not exceed $300.00 for first offence or $3000.00 for second and subsequent offence. (Again, I have never heard of anyone being fined when they have pulled their children out of school while waiting to get their exemption – although sometimes it does make it more difficult to get the exemption.)

So what can we do when our child is six/seven and under sixteen and we still do not have an exemption? At the Red Tape Cluster Buster meeting we discussed the need for the exemptions to be processed faster than 4-6 weeks. I also asked for there to be some leniency for home educators, after reading a letter from Jim Greening to Prinicpals where he says:

In 2013, the Attendance Service received over 38,000 unjustified absence and non enrolment referrals.  This high number of referrals shows us the importance of ensuring students attend school to reach their potential.  However, with this high number of referrals we want to ensure that schools are playing their part before making a referral to the Attendance Service.  It is important that your school has an attendance management plan in place to ensure your students attend school and that all reasonable actions are exhausted before making a referral through to your local Attendance Service.

The Attendance Service is here to support you when your attempts to solve non-attendance issues are not successful and the non-attendance is on-going.  The Attendance Service is designed to help you deal with students of chronic non-attendance rather than students who occasionally don’t go to school.

For 2014, there will be a focus on decreasing the number of students who are re-referred to the Attendance Service.  The aim is to identify root causes of non-attendance, implement strategies to address these, and help ensure students are returned to a sustainable regular attendance.  We look forward to working with you on this and value your commitment and ongoing involvement in these matters.

The Head office of the MoE is far more interested in finding and addressing the chronic non-attendance at schools than tracking down the Home Educator who is currently in the process of applying for an exemption.

I talked with the Red Tape Cluster Buster team about this and asked if something can be done for us. Megan was quick to come back with what is already in place – Justified absence (any amount of time) and Unjustified absence (20 days only). So I “searched” the MoE website for these terms and came up with this:

The Law: Release from school and Exemption from attendance 

The Policy: Absence from school definitions – we can use these to our advantage when pulling children out of school, or once our child turns six and we still don’t have an exemption.

Justified absence – occurs when the reason for a student’s absence fits within the school’s policy as a justifiable reason for the student’s absence. (Any amount of time.)

Unjustified absence – are full-day absences which are either unexplained, or the reason for the absence is not within the school’s policy as a justifiable reason for the student to miss school. (20 consecutive days)

Intermittent unjustified absence – occurs when a student is absent for part of a morning (or afternoon)without justification.

Overall absence (or non-attendance) – the sum of justified absence, unjustified absence and intermittent unjustified absences.

Truancy – the sum of unjustified absence and intermittent unjustified absence.

Non-enrolment – after 20 consecutive days of continuous unjustified absence, a school removes a student from their roll (ENROL) and a referral is made to the Attendance Service .

“Please refer to Attendance Matters [PDF: 1.13mb] pages 10-11 for more detailed information on the absence codes and definitions.

Below are the things that could apply to home educators from pages 10-11 mentioned in the above PDF.

Justified absence

Student absent due to short-term illness/medical reasons – Student is at home, with an illness or medical reason. Depending on school policy a medical certificate may be requested for prolonged illness, eg three days, or as policy requires.

Justified explanation within the school policy –

• Unplanned absences such as a bus breakdown, accident, road closure, extreme weather conditions etc.
• Planned non-attendance such as national/local representation in a sporting or cultural event in New Zealand or overseas. (See also Code O)
• Approved absence (including overseas) can also include bereavement, visiting an ill relative, exceptional family circumstances or a Section 27.

Unsupervised study – student is off-site – Code X will count as a justified absence and be used in ½ day absence summaries. Note that supervised study is recorded as a regular timetabled class

Justified overseas – check next column for justification examples– A student accompanying or visiting a family member who is on an overseas posting (the student can be held on the roll for up to 15 consecutive weeks). Eg military ordiplomatic.

Student is stood down or suspended – Student is stood down or suspended according the conditions of Section 14 of the Education Act 1989.

Unjustified absence, Unjustified absences , Intermittent unjustified

Unknown reason  – This is the initial entry for a student not in class and the reason is unknown. It will be edited as relevant information becomes available about the reason for the
non-attendance. The system can be configured by the school to automatically change (or not change) the “?” code to a “T” after a configurable number of school days (eg seven).

Student is absent with an explained, but unjustified reason – The explanation for the absence is accepted by the school as the reason for the absence, but the reason does not fit within the school’s policy as a justifiable reason to take the student off school (even though the parents may consider the absence was justified and may have provided a written explanation). Eg “Molly had to stay home to look after her younger brother” or “We went for a two-week family holiday in the South Island.” This includes overseas absence not approved by the principal. (A parent’s note does not provide justification.)

No information provided – truant (or throw-away explanation) – This code is for an absence where no verifiable explanation is received, or the explanations are like the following:
• I don’t like my maths teacher so I took the period off.
• I had an assignment to be handed in next period so I took this period off to finish it.
• I was hot so went down to the river.
• We had a test and I wasn’t ready for it.
• I was at the shops.

My Conclusions

From reading the PDF above it is clear that principals are being encouraged to work hard on Unjustified absence, Unjustified absences , Intermittent unjustified absence. There is a challange out there for them to have the lowest percentage of unjustifed absence in their school. Some schools have a zero tolerance approach to truancy.

So I believe that it is in our best interests to have a Justified absence while applying for our exemptions. I think that this will keep the principals happier – we won’t make their total Unjustified absences worse. (An example of a justfied absence would a Doctor’s certificate)

I have asked the Red Tape Cluster Buster team to make “justified absence” a part of the process of applying for an exemption  application if our children are aged between 6-16.


Policy – Advice: Non-attendance of students under the age of six

While a parent may enrol their child who is five years old in school, the parent is not legally required to ensure they attend until they turn six.


• A school board still has a role to, by any means it thinks appropriate, take all reasonable steps to ensure the attendance of students enrolled at its school.
• If intermittent attendance by an enrolled five-year-old is a concern, the school can seek help from the attendance service, community agencies, CYF or the Police.
• The greatest concern for principals is not knowing if a child is at home or whether something untoward has happened on the way to school. Schools can contact Attendance Services to support them to confirm the safety
of a child if they have been absent from school. Also a visit from CYF or a community constable to a parent may be enough.

Non enrolment

• A parent is free to withdraw their five-year-old at any time and not re-enrol them at another school until they turn six.
• After 20 consecutive days of unjustified absence schools may remove a five-year-old from the school’s roll.

I wanted to know exactly what the law was and how it was applied – the policy, and then how we can use the policy to keep within the law.


From the Smiths:

Updated 22 April 2014:  Two years on (Craig Smith’s Health) page 7 click here


Needing help for your home schooling journey:


Here are a couple of links to get you started home schooling:

Information on getting started


Information on getting an exemption

This link is motivational:

Exemption Form online:

Coming Events: