School attendance has improved across New Zealand with Otago-Southland leading the way.

Regular school attendance is defined as greater than 90% of class time, but Covid-19 disruption caused the presence of pupils to plummet.

Ministry of Education (MoE) statistics for term four regular attendance showed a national average of 65% in 2021, dropping to 50.6% in 2022, while Otago-Southland rates for term four last year were 56.6%.

Schools are working to restore numbers as pandemic restrictions roll back.

South Otago High School (SOHS) holds the contract for school attendance services in the South Otago area.

SOHS principal Mike Wright reviewed recent data and said the trend was for improving attendance compared with the same time in 2022.

‘‘We have seen an 8% improvement in attendance for SOHS students which is a significant change,’’ he said, ‘‘This could partly be explained with reduced numbers of Covid cases [causing] justified absence, but in other categories we are seeing improved attendance [i.e.] fewer unjustified absences [and] we have been working with whanau where students have an attendance rate below 80% as our prime area for improvement.’’

Mike Wright

SOHS attendance service adviser Margaret Cardno wanted pupils and parents to know the service was based around encouragement and education on the benefits of regular school attendance. ‘‘We have a mental wellbeing focus, especially after the pandemic,’’ she said.

‘‘We remove barriers such as anxiety after prolonged absence, and help with health concerns and complex family situations.

‘‘School improves life opportunities, including social, sporting and cultural opportunities.

‘‘It connects community with lifelong friendships and networks based on education . . . so young people out of school are at risk of being disadvantaged.’’

Children aged 6-16 are legally required to be engaged in registered education but law enforcement is a last resort against truancy.

MoE data shows low attendance is most prevalent among the later years, particularly year 13.

‘‘The compulsory years set you up for the later years, which is where [pupils’] options really broaden,’’ Mrs Cardno said.

Mr Wright said SOHS would continue to work to support whanau and pupils to continue to improve attendance.

‘‘The school has developed criteria [where] for students to be able to represent the school in extracurricular activities they must have a record of good school attendance.

‘‘This is motivating students to maintain positive attendance habits, and the students feel positive about their change.’’

He said a call from attendance services should be seen as an offer to help, and parents or pupils needing advice were welcome to get in touch with their school.