Truancy parents face fine of $3000

Friday Dec 12, 2008

Parents of truants will be fined $300 for the first offence and $3000 for subsequent wagging under legislation being rushed through Parliament.

The Education (National Standards) Amendment Bill gives the Education Minister the power to set national literacy and numeracy standards.

But it also doubles truancy penalties. If a parent does not enroll a child at school, the fine will also be $3000 - double what it was before.

But the Labour Party and the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals' Association last night doubted the bigger fines would make any difference.

Up to 30,000 children a week are estimated to play truant from their classrooms.

"Parents are very much in the same boat as schools, struggling to ensure the kids are in school," association president Peter Gall said. "Unless the truancy is condoned, it would not be right to prosecute the parents."

The bill will allow the Secretary if Education to initiate prosecutions alongside boards of trustees.

Labour's education spokesman, Chris Carter, said: "I don't think the increased fines will make any difference at all, considering the difficulties involved in prosecuting parents."

Truancy prosecutions are unusual under the existing Education Act, which requires parents to ensure children under 16 attend classes.

Only 30 have been laid since 2006.

In other changes under the bill, students will be assessed against national standards and the information will be given to parents.

But the national standards section of the legislation is largely symbolic as the power already exists for such standards to be set by regulation.

Because the Government intends to pass the bill under urgency it will bypass the select committee stage.

Mr Gall says this will be unpopular with educators.

"It's a matter of trust," he said. "When bills are rushed, and the sector is not consulted, it will create a wedge and a sense of suspicion with the Government."

The New Zealand Educational Institute also said the merits of national standards should be debated by a select committee.

"NZEI believes openness is critical to ensure that any decisions on teaching and learning are educationally sound and will lead to increased student achievement," institute president Frances Nelson said.

"By shutting the door, the Government is ignoring a golden opportunity to utilise the skills and expertise of the sector and forge positive relationships with the people it will be asking to make its policies work."

Chris Carter said the national standards could lead to standardised testing, which he said was "failed and discredited" and had been disastrous in the United States and Britain.

But the bill says schools will be able to use "established assessment tools" to check students against the standards - indicating they will be able to choose from a range of existing methods.

It says an Education Review Office report last year noted that although a range of sophisticated assessment tools was available to track student achievement, 56 per cent of schools were not using "worthwhile achievement data".

- Additional reporting: NZPA