Understanding attendance

Things to know

  • The law about attendance 
  • Ministry of Education attendance regulations
  • Board of trustees’ responsibilities regarding attendance
  • Procedures for monitoring attendance - in place and regularly reviewed
  • Attendance expectations and monitoring procedures in written form for students, parents, and caregivers
  • Attendance expectations emphasised in teachers’ discussions about student progress
  • The capabilities of electronic attendance registers (eAR).

Education and Training Act 2020

Key sections: 36, 42 and 43.

These cover the requirement to attend, and exceptions for well-being or transitional plans and for secondary-tertiary programmes.

Presence and absence: the administrative requirements

A good attendance system supports quality learning. It helps create conditions for staff and students to work together effectively. It has simple, clear goals and effective procedures that everyone knows and expects.

Directions, regulations, and practices for managing student attendance are well-defined and available online. You will find information there on areas such as:

  • the legal responsibilities and national guidelines 
  • using electronic attendance registers (eAR)
  • attendance guidelines, sample policies, and tips for practice, including the downloadable publications Attendance Matters (2011) and Improving Attendance (2010).

Managing school attendance – Ministry Education website

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Your school: attendance as it is now

Collecting attendance data is a daily chore that involves every member of the school community. In schools where the average presence is consistently higher than 90 per cent, attendance checks are easier. Where average presence drops into the 80–90 per cent range, they can take more time. 

However, as a daily, very familiar, routine, attendance checks can lack urgency and importance in the minds of some students and their families.

Analysing attendance data to understand school patterns is an effective use of management systems to support and enhance student learning.

Analysing the data

Visit the Education Counts website for:

Attendance in New Zealand schools – a nationwide picture 

Attendance Collection (Electronic) – instructions on how to create and send electronic attendance files.

Who has poor attendance?

  • Find the data for your school.
  • Take your in-school attendance data for a representative period this year (say, the month of May) and analyse the attendance patterns for girls, boys, different ethnic groups, different year levels, and Mondays and Fridays.
  • Look beyond averages and medians. Look at the bottom 10 per cent. What is the impact of their poor attendance on their achievement and school achievement?
  • Compare your attendance analysis with the nationwide picture.
  • Identify any issues that need your consideration – for example, in-school variations and truancy.
  • Provide staff and board with regular snapshots of absence issues.
  • What do students think is 'poor attendance'? Is there a need for a change of perspective?
  • Are you satisfied with your school’s absence record and the processes used to implement the collection, analysis, follow-up, and benefits gained from the processes involved?

Who has excellent attendance?

  • Use the attendance data you collected (for example, for May). Take the data for those who have excellent attendance and analyse it.
  • Provide a report to the staff and board on those who attend well.
  • What is done about students with very high levels of attendance?
  • Do the characteristics of students who have excellent attendance provide any understandings that will help raise the levels of attendance of others?
  • What do students think is 'excellent attendance'?

Your school attendance patterns

  • What are the correlations between attendance patterns and student achievement for specific groups?
  • What can you do about altering the present attendance situation?
  • Keep these results readily available to assist school decision-making and action.

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Engagement and attendance: beyond data collection

Non-attendance does not go away. Students may leave, but the issue remains visible in school attendance records.

In-school or school-based factors offer the best starting points for principals and teachers to apply strategies to reduce non-attendance. Such strategies can be viewed as pull factors, working to retain or increase engagement in learning.

Promoting the school as a supportive and caring place is commonly at the core of strategies to strengthen engagement. The nature of teaching and learning is being included in strategies to reduce absence levels.

Initiatives for non-attendance

Graeme Withers, a senior research fellow at the Australian Council for Educational Research, identifies these common ingredients in strategies to strengthen engagement with formal education: 

  • dynamic classrooms led rather than ruled by teachers
  • classrooms that respond flexibly to students’ stated or perceived needs, rather than a rigid, qualifications-driven process
  • strengthening teachers’ skills, with in-service education, so they can function more professionally for a wider range of student abilities and interests
  • cultural inclusiveness and sensitivity to learning styles, languages and traditions amongst minority ethnic groups
  • changing a school climate to emphasise cooperation and to encourage active learning, in and out of the classroom
  • whole-school commitment and effort to reduce absenteeism and suspensions, involving the whole school community and its surrounding community
  • providing options for any suspended students, allowing their learning to proceed
  • smaller schools where values and expectations are shared and clear, both in policies and their enactment
  • a thorough system of pastoral care and counselling that reaches parents as well as students. 

(from Withers G. (2004) Disengagement, Disenchantment, Disappearance. A paper prepared for the Learning Choice Expo conducted by the Dusseldorf Skills Forum, Sydney, 23–24 June, 2004).

Examples from other OECD countries:

A best practice checklist – California Department of Education website

Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) for Secondary Schools – govt.uk website

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Dealing with poor attendance

Check that your decisions and actions arise from analysis of the school’s attendance data.

Read the Systems section of Kiwi Leadership for Principals (pages 19–20) to confirm the professional characteristics used as you work on this process.

Put in place a school-wide attendance focus

Use the Principal's checklist below and the guidelines in Attendance Matters to help you ensure schoolwide processes are in place and working to improve the levels of engagement. 

Attendance Matters (PDF, 1.6MB) – Ministry of Education website 

Principal’s checklist

This checklist provides a guide for schoolwide attendance as part of your school’s engagement in learning strategy.

  • Our daily recording of attendance provides accurate and timely summaries week in and week out. Reworks to overcome entry errors are rare.
  • In our school, a range of people (class or form teachers, deans, senior staff) use the attendance data as a basis for strengthening student engagement through personalised approaches and systems.
  • Our monitoring of attendance data at least meets the criteria suggested in Attendance Matters.
  • Our parents are regularly informed about their children’s attendance weaknesses and asked to play a key role in rectifying them.
  • There is a schoolwide process for acknowledging excellence in attendance.
  • We apply absence and truancy procedures fully and consistently. We work collaboratively with other schools, attendance services, and other agencies.
  • Recording of attendance and absence is making full or increasing use of computer technology to reduce the dollar and human costs of schoolwide monitoring.
  • At least every 6 months, we reflect on the attendance issues that are of concern to teachers and, where necessary, provide action based on the analysis of data collected from day to day.
  • Our annual reviews of attendance processes use criteria like those in Attendance Matters, pages 8-9.

Probably 70–80 per cent of students will respond satisfactorily and meet the communication demands of such systems. (For example, parents phone in absences.)

Emphasise teachers' responsibility for attendance

Reduce in-school variation in attendance 

  • Teachers who take responsibility for the attendance at their class(es) will personalise messages to students about any lack of attendance. This is likely to bring improvement when combined with active work on engagement processes to provide "dynamic classrooms led rather than ruled by teachers" (see Withers’ suggestions above).


  • Clearly identify students who are not meeting school expectations and require teachers to provide a focus on them. This approach will improve the attendance of another 5–15 per cent of students as they respond to a more personalised education system.

Engage support agencies, counsellors, and other services

Take responsibility for the truants and difficult cases by participating in district support systems. Be able to clearly identify who is in this group.

  • Attendance Services, Ministry of Education Learning Support staff, social welfare agencies, drug and alcohol counsellors, iwi authorities, and other social services may all play a role in working with the students who have the worst attendance.
  • Develop effective communication systems with these agencies. Ensure that daily information flows are working well, as required.
  • Participate in district truancy initiatives and support any local committee.
  • Recognise that at intermediate and secondary school level, the complexity of working with truants is often beyond the resources of your school alone.
  • Ensure there are means to reintegrate students who have had lengthy absences so the ‘pull factors’ of school can get to work.

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