The Law Regarding Attendance
The main two sections to consider here are:
(1) Except as provided in this Act, every person who is not an international student is required to be enrolled at a registered school at all times during the period beginning on the person’s sixth birthday and ending on the person’s 16th birthday.
(2) Before a child’s seventh birthday, the child is not required to be enrolled at any school more than 3 kilometres walking distance from the child’s residence.
(1) An employee of the Ministry designated by the Secretary for the purpose (in this section and section 26 referred to as a designated officer) may, by certificate given to a person’s parent, exempt the person from the requirements of section 20,--
(a) on the parent’s application; and
(b) if satisfied that the person--
(i) will be taught at least as regularly and well as in a registered school; or
(ii) in the case of a person who would otherwise be likely to need special education, will be taught at least as regularly and well as in a special class or clinic or by a special service.
(2) A certificate under subsection (1) continues in force until it is revoked or expires under this section.
If You Want to Keep Your Child Home During The Exemption Process
- A child who is suffering from extreme anxiety regarding school
- A child who is not safe at school
- A child who's health and/or well-being prevents them from attending school
- A family who have just moved to the country or an area, and to put them in school for a very short time would be unreasonably disruptive and/or expensive for family and school
- A family who have made a last-minute decision to proceed with home education, and school is going back in for a new term or similar
- A family who believe their child is simply better learning at home, perhaps because they have not been making appropriate progress at school
- A family who are simply keen to get on with it
Firstly, if either of the following can be applied, then there will be no "truancy" during this time:
1) Talk to your child's school principal. Explain the decision you have made, and ask them if they would keep the child on the roll and mark them down under one of the following until the exemption is granted:
- "justified absence"
- learning at home with the school providing schoolwork
- principal's discretion for alternative education on the basis that you will be educating them at home (Section 25B)
If the principal and/or doctor is unwilling or unable to be supportive about this, then you will need to decide whether to keep them home anyway. Meanwhile, they will be marked on the roll as "unjustified absence."
Each school is responsible to have and abide by it's own policies regarding the running of the school, and this includes how they handle non-attendance. The policy will usually determine at what point the school will refer the student to Attendance Services. This may be as little as three days, or as long as 20 days, of unjustified absence. After 20 consecutive days of unjustified absence, the school can remove the student from their roll.
All students in NZ are on a national database known as ENROL, which also shows them linked to their school of enrolment, or as being home educated if exempt. If a student is removed from the school's roll and not enrolled in another school, nor exempt, then there is an automatic enquiry triggered for Attendance Services to follow up on.
If you are contacted by Attendance Services, it should begin as a non-threatening enquiry as to why your child is not in school, and what your plans are.
If you tell Attendance Services that you have chosen to home educate and have put in an exemption application, then the only things they should say then are:
- That usually takes about 4-6 weeks to process
- Please refer to the Ministry's website for more information
They might also try to discuss, especially if the child has already been absent for some time, whether it would be best to put them in school until the exemption is granted. If you have made a firm decision about that and communicate it to the Attendance Officer, then they should leave it there.
Attendance Services only remaining role in the event of an exemption application is to follow up and ensure that the exemption was granted so they can close their file - they can do this by accessing ENROL in due course.
Most Attendance Services staff are pleasant people, and in some cases they can be very supportive. There's no reason to be afraid of them.
On rare occasions in the past, we have had incidences where individual attendance staff have made ill-informed and inappropriate statements to parents about the exemption process and their part in it. If you happen to experience that, please get in touch.
Can Penalties Happen?
Note, however, that a court case and fines are generally treated as a last resort when all attempts to discuss and support a family so their child can be returned to school have failed.
In a situation where a parent has decided on an alternative form of education - namely in this case home education - and is in the process of applying for an exemption, there is unlikely to be any attempt to prosecute them. If, however, the exemption is declined and the child remains absent for a prolonged period without resolution, then the Ministry may consider doing so.
Does "truancy" affect the exemption application?
- When the Ministry acknowledges receipt of your application, they use a form letter which includes a reminder that children from 6-16 must remain in school during this process
- If you happen to have direct contact with Ministry staff, they may also remind you of this law
If this is not possible, and you feel your child cannot remain in school until it is granted, discuss the situation with your child's principal and/or doctor and see if you can have them under "justified absence" in the meantime.
If that fails, you must consider the best interests of your child and act accordingly, understanding that you may be contacted by Attendance Services during this time. If so, be polite and firm, and ask for support from your local home educators group, myself or NCHENZ if needed.