Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Truancy: Wagging school

What can happen to me if I wag school?

Education Act 1989, ss 14, 25

Schools vary in how they deal with this. Some may give you a punishment like writing lines or doing a detention.

If you wag school regularly, the principal could stand you down or suspend you, on the ground that this is continual disobedience that’s a dangerous or harmful example to other students (see “On what grounds can I be stood down from school?” and see “What types of behaviour can justify a suspension?”. However, the school should investigate first and consider the reasons why you were absent and consider how the problem could be addressed.

Education (School Attendance) Regulations 1951, reg 11

If you’re absent for 20 school days in a row and you don’t tell the school that it’s just a temporary absence, the principal can record you as having left the school. If you’re under 16, you’ll then have to either re-enrol at that school or enrol at another one.

What can happen to parents if their children are truant?

Education Act 1989, ss 20, 24, 25, 29

Parents have to enrol their children in school between the ages of six and 16. Each parent can be fined up to $3,000 each if they fail to do this.

As well as enrolling their children, parents also have to make sure their children go to school every day it’s open, unless there’s a genuine excuse, like being sick. If you don’t make your children go to school, you could be charged and fined up to $30 for every day your child wags. If you’re found guilty of this a first time, you could be fined up to a total of $300. If you’re charged and found guilty again, you could have to pay up to $3,000.

How many hours a day do I have to be at school?

Education Act 1989, s 25(3)

On any given day you have to be at school for at least four hours, otherwise you’ll be considered truant on that day. However, that doesn’t mean you can leave school after four hours, as you’ll still need to get the school’s permission to leave before regular class hours are over. If you leave early without permission, you won’t be officially marked as truant, but the school can discipline you.

A student with a disability might ask for permission to attend for the minimum four hours a day.

What are the school’s responsibilities if a student is truant?

Education Act 1989, ss 25, 31
Education (School Attendance) Regulations 1951, reg 3

Boards of trustees have to take all reasonable steps to make sure the school’s students are at school whenever it’s open. Schools have to keep accurate daily attendance records for all students, and the school should also have a plan for managing non-attendance.

Steps the school could take to deal with a case of regular truancy could include:

  • assessing the situation at a meeting of senior staff or the board of trustees
  • making sure the family is told about the problem, both verbally and in writing, and in a way they can understand
  • arranging a family meeting to discuss the problem
  • contacting other agencies if there are issues such as learning difficulties, or abuse, neglect or other problems at home.

Attendance officers: Their role and powers

Education Act 1989, s 31

Schools can employ an “attendance officer” to make sure students go to school.

Attendance officers can detain students if they find them outside school, but they have to produce evidence of who they are, such as a badge. They can ask the student to provide their name and address, the name and address of their school, and the reason why they’re absent. If the attendance officer isn’t satisfied with the student’s response, they can take the student home or to the school they think the student is enrolled at. However, an attendance officer can’t go into the student’s home uninvited.

A police officer has the same powers to deal with truant students as attendance officers.

When Child, Youth and Family and other agencies may get involved

If you’re regularly truant from school and the school has tried all options under its own attendance management plan, it can get the Ministry of Education’s Attendance Service involved. One of the service’s local organisations will then phone or visit your family to discuss your absence. They will work with you and your school to develop a plan to get you back into school.

In some cases your school or the police may also contact Child, Youth and Family on the basis that you may come under the care and protection laws.

If Child, Youth and Family become involved, they’ll probably call a family group conference (FGC) to look at the issues of concern. At the conference, your parents and other family members can talk about why you’re not going to school and can suggest solutions. The family group conference should develop a plan of action and Child, Youth and Family should make sure support is in place for you and your family.

I’m concerned about my child wagging school – what can I do?

You could start by contacting one of the following people and telling them about your concerns:

  • the school’s attendance officer
  • the school’s guidance counsellor
  • the dean for your child’s year
  • the principal
  • the local Attendance Service organisation – they’ll help in finding your child and getting them back to school. You can contact the Attendance Service through your school or the Ministry of Education.

You can also ask the school for an attendance report for your child.