Waatea News Column: Imagine if we spent $74million on free school lunches rather than Truancy Officers?


The Government have announced an extra $ 74 million on Truancy Officers in an attempt to reel in New Zealand’s disastrous truancy rates.

I am not convinced that is the best use of money.

Many of our children are missing out on school due to the enormous disruption of Covid, many have mental health troubles thanks to that disruption. Many are locked into the economics of food inflation which sees them working and providing for the bills rather than going to school, many are holding on by the thinnest of strands.

Many are having to be parents in homes with broken adults.

If only we could also find another $ 74 million to spend on free breakfasts and free school lunches to counter the poverty pressures rather than just Truancy Officers who coerce attendance.

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Rather than seek to resolve the underlying pressures causing Truancy, we simply seek more people to chase Truants.

We are better than this!

We should have the capacity to attempt to solve the problem rather than just cope with the problem which seems to be the constant default position of this country’s social policies.

Our kids deserve a better thought-out policy than simply chasing them down and frog-marching them to school.

This is the sort of social policy I expect from the National, it is not Labour social policy at all.

First published on Waatea News.


  1. It doesn’t have to be an ‘either’ ‘or’ scenario, why not have both? Seventy-four million isn’t a huge amount, less than a third of the money spent on immigrant John Key’s wasted flag referendum, when changing the New Zealand flag was the only legacy which he seemed to care about leaving.

    Truancy is a complex issue. Our children are our future. Any money spent on their well-being and getting them into classrooms is money well spent. A Commissioner for Children would be an excellent idea too.

    • Good comments .Education is the main tool society has to break the poverty cycle. We are a small wealthy country that could attract the best teachers from all over the world to pass on their knowledge to our children .We would then attract businesses that need those brains and pay good wages for them . Higher wages high tax take better for the people a true win win.

      • Trevor. We need a different, more innovative approach, eg something like Queen Camilla has initiated in the UK, focused on child literacy, rather than just on getting kids into schools. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to come from the hapless Education Department, seemingly more influenced by Jan Logie type philosophy rather than what education is meant to be about. Even a skills-focused approach could be a useful sort of compromise, but just the sight of the plonkers from the Education Review Office makes this seem an unrealistic expectation. Once again, it is the children who miss out, and the country missing out with potential talent wasted.

        Everyone’s also forgetting the assault on psyches by the pandemic and lockdowns, and insecurities at every level, except for the clueless privileged politicians, protected and buffered on every side.

    • Agree, $74m for truancy and extra for free food at schools is not a lot. Government needs to prioritise its spending – $55m on a vanity bike bridge across Auckland harbour would have gone a long way towards this. Though there needs to be a constant evaluation of the free food – don’t think the parents of those at Auckland Grammar need it….

  2. Nobody wants to understand the quantum of the problem due to the political optics and expected outcome.

    Agree a poor decision and funding outcome.

    Alas par for the course for New Zimbabwe. Watch for recruitment problems and only about 15 officers that get out to the front line.

  3. It’s a ‘see we are doing something’ solution, as for free breaky we do that already and every now and then we get to see the shit that is served up. We need a different solution then forcing everyone to sit in class until they are 18, and in the old days that would have been aprenticeships which we are not doing anymore, for which the government has no money to spend on, and thus you have truancy. Maybe also instruct schools to teach math, reading, writing and understanding and leave all the gender quatsch out and maybe that would help.
    But we live in the time of ‘look we are doing something’, rather then ‘look we are investing’.

    • Reactionary Bratwurst. The literacy levels of our prisoners is a major indictment of our education system, and a reflection of what truancy officers there were in times past, and importantly, of the state itself when most of them have been under state care one way or another before proceeding to prison. Parents, and those functioning in lieu of parents, have to be gotten on board, but at least free meals are a humanitarian step, and can’t be criticised as such.

      The “shit that is served up “ is inexcusable. Boarding schools do better.

  4. Well, this is great. That’s extra jobs, 740 truancy officers with $100,000 salaries and the kids will be back in school and it will save the jobs of the many teachers who would become unemployed if truancy remained at the currently appalling rates of 20-40%.

    Healthy school lunches, do that too.

  5. the mantra of every child must go to college(gotta get those bums on seats) and the inevitable lowering of standards to achive that is a big part of the problem….
    some kids would do better in trade schools(if we had any)….and lets face it we need tradies more than we need ‘artists’.
    part of the reason we need immigrants is NZ business does no training so trained people have to be shipped in

  6. ” This is the sort of social policy I expect from the National, it is not Labour social policy at all ”

    Its good old fashion neo liberal policy at work and LINO are great when it comes to talking big money projects to pretend to look like they are doing something when another appalling social disaster becomes public and of course Wellington Neo libs will slowly drip feed the funds out into the wastelands of Aotearoa.

    Question how much authority will these truancy officers actually have ?

    Will they threaten sanctions against those on the benefit ? and the more savvy middle class and wealthy elite and can they really have an impact of enforcing any authority when most children know the law and that they will simply say you can’t force me to do anything I don’t want to do.

    Can anyone provide a breakdown on where this $74 million dollars is going when the money is released ! And will it be reviewed to see if it actually has any effect at all ?

    • Mosa. We still need to try, and to accept that every child counts. Imagine if Trevor Mallard had sent colouring books and crayons down to the young children at the Parliament lawn protest, instead of turning sprinklers on their flimsy tents and playing torturously loud music. That was child abuse IMO, but Mallard was rewarded by being made Ambassador to Ireland, so it does look as if this government has very questionable values concerning children. Many reputable organisations have begged them to keep the Commissioner for Children, but they’re turning a deaf ear to that too, for no good reason.

      School may not suit all pupils, and the disappearance of the old technical college for non-academic kids was clearly counter-productive and makes their and their teachers’ classroom experience more challenging. Others have commented on Education Dept curricula which leaves our students trailing the world in basics like literacy, science, and maths, while focusing on fringe stuff like gender identity, body experience and so on. This doesn’t necessarily help to equip them to live as useful self- fulfilled people, let alone to get the jobs they’ll need, and hopefully enjoy. All the more reason to keep speaking up on their behalf, and to let the politicians know that we’re watching them.

  7. truancy officers only work if parents care and many don’t..my mum would have been mortified to have a truancy officer at the door…now too many don’t give a fuck ‘why are you lying about Rambo Dog breath Jr now fuck off’ in that kind of entitled atmos truancy officers will be ineffective at best.

    • Gagarin. If that Green MP whose names escapes me, was able to push through legislation making parents who have misgivings about their under-age children taking gender-bending meds liable to three years’ imprisonment, then I don’t know what’s stopping them considering likewise for parents who object to their children receiving an education.

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