Legal responsibilities and national guidelines for schools on attendance

Schools, along with parents and guardians, are legally responsible for making sure students attend school.

School responsibilities for student attendance

Your school is responsible for the first response to any absences.

Your school must:

  • have an attendance management policy
  • communicate your attendance rules to students and their families
  • follow up on absences
  • record and monitor attendance and absence data
  • work to improve attendance.

Attendance management policies can be tailored to the needs of your school and community.

Attendance rules include:

  • being on time for school and class, and
  • information on how unexplained absences will be followed up.

Improving attendance might include working with families to help students return to school.

Legislation governing attendance

Schools (boards, principals, and individual teachers), along with parents and guardians, are responsible for making sure students attend school regularly.

Under Section 25 and section 31 of the The Education Act 1989, every school board must take all reasonable steps to make sure students attend school when it's open.

Although there are some practical requirements, including maintaining a daily attendance register, it's up to your school to identify the scope of ‘all reasonable steps' in your attendance policies. Your board must provide support when attendance issues arise.

Refer to Appendix 1 of Attendance Matters for more information.

Attendance Matters [PDF, 1.6 MB]

Staggered transition to school

Changes to the Education Act 1989 mean that for those children aged 4 and 5 who would benefit from a staggered transition to school, a transition plan needs to be agreed between the:

  • child’s parents
  • school principal and
  • Ministry of Education.

If a child has started school (any time before the age of 6), and if issues emerge that full time attendance is difficult then a transition plan may be put in place. The child will then be required to attend school in accordance with that plan.

Your school should use the ‘J’ (justified absence) attendance code in your Electronic Attendance Register to record absences that align with the transition plan.

The following templates may help you to create and agree a transition plan. Note that there's no requirement to use this template, and a simple email trail showing the parents, your principal and Ministry of Education have agreed to the plan is sufficient to meet the legislative requirements.

Transition to School Attendance Plan Template — English [DOCX, 85 KB]

Transition to School Attendance Plan Template — Te Reo Māori [DOCX, 80 KB]

Otherwise you can contact your local Ministry service manager for assistance to develop a transition plan.

Local Ministry offices

National Administration Guidelines relevant to attendance

The National Administration Guidelines outline responsibilities for boards of trustees. They must:

  • foster student achievement and attendance
  • comply with all general legislation about attendance
  • make sure all students are safe.

Guideline 1

Guideline 1 states that each board of trustees is required to:

(c) on the basis of good quality assessment information, identify students and groups of students:

i. who are not achieving;

ii. who are at risk of not achieving;

(e) in consultation with the school’s Māori community, develop and make known to the school’s community policies, plans, and targets for improving the achievement of Māori students.

Being present and engaged is fundamental to student achievement.

Guideline 3

Guideline 3 states that each board of trustees is required to:

(a) develop and implement personnel and industrial policies, within policy and procedural frameworks set by the Government from time to time, which promote high levels of staff performance, use educational resources effectively and recognise the needs of students.

Guideline 5 states that each board of trustees is required to:

(a) provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students

(c) comply in full with any legislation currently in force or that may be developed to ensure the safety of students and employees.

Guideline 6

Guideline 6 states that each board of trustees is required to comply with all general legislation concerning requirements such as attendance, the length of the school day, and the length of the school year.

When all students (including international students) are attending school, everyone can be confident they're in a safe learning environment.

Refer to Appendix 1, page 15 of Attendance Matters for more information on the relevant guidelines.

Appendix 1 — Attendance Matters [PDF, 1.6 MB]

Futher information

Training services runs online training in managing attendance for school leaders and administration staff. If you haven’t already received an email invite to online training, email:

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