What is truancy?
Truancy is when students are absent from school without their parents’ knowledge or permission. It’s also called ‘wagging school’.
If your child is truanting, it might look like they’re going to school. They’ll leave and come home at the usual time, and they might even go to school some of the time. But they’ll miss particular classes or even whole days at school. They might spend their time in places like the shops, movies, parks or friends’ houses.
Truancy is different from school refusal, which is when children get very upset about going to school, and won’t or can’t go. School refusal happens with parents’ knowledge. Truancy is also different from absenteeism, which is when children are at home with their parents’ knowledge for various reasons, including illness or family difficulties.
Why truancy happens
Truancy most often happens for reasons related to school and behaviour.
Children who are wagging for school-related reasons often:
- feel bored at school
- don’t feel a sense of connection to school, teachers or peers.
Children who are wagging for behaviour-related reasons often:
Less common reasons for truancy include:
- major life changes – for example, moving house or moving schools
- negative school experiences – for example, bullying, friendship problems or difficulties with learning, homework or assessment tasks.
Signs of truancy
Your child’s school will usually contact you if your child has been missing school without any explanation.
If you haven’t heard from the school but you’re worried that your child is wagging school, you can look for these common signs:
- Your child is hanging around other children who get into trouble or aren’t interested in school.
- Your child says things like, ‘Going to school is boring and a waste of time’.
- Your child’s teachers let you know that your child is misbehaving in class or has a negative attitude to learning.
It’s vital to pick up early on problems with school attendance and truancy, before the problems become long term. The longer your child is away from school, the harder it will be to get them back again.
Talking with pre-teens and teenagers about truancy
If you know your child has been wagging school, talking with your child is an important first step. This will help you work out how to help your child get back to school.
You might want to try the following:
- Talk with your child about why they’re not going to school and what they’re doing instead. For example, ‘The school contacted me today to say you weren’t there again. I think we need to talk’.
- Actively listen when your child talks about why they’re wagging school. This will help you understand what’s going on. For example, ‘ I know it’s hard to say no when Quinn asks you to wag’. This will also help you pick up on any underlying problems.
- Work with your child to find a solution. For example, ‘Let’s talk to your year coordinator about how to make things more interesting for you in class’.
School-related truancy: tips for re-engaging pre-teens and teenagers
If your child is truanting for school-related reasons, you’ll probably need the school’s support to get your child back to school:
- Talk with your child’s year coordinator or the school’s student wellbeing staff. If your child is missing only particular classes or avoiding particular teachers, these staff members can help you and your child pinpoint the problem. Then you can work together on solutions.
- Talk with school staff about strategies to keep your child attending and engaged. For example, if your child has been wagging a lot, the school might be able to organise a ‘staged return’ for your child.
- Ask the school about counselling support. And if your child is already seeing a counsellor outside of school, ask the counsellor whether they can talk to school staff about the best ways to get your child to stay at school.
Even if you think your child’s truancy is related to behaviour issues rather than school issues, it’s still important to get help from the school. School staff have a lot of experience in dealing with attendance problems and can work with you to get your child back to school.
Behaviour-related truancy: tips for dealing with boundary-pushing and peer influence
If your child is wagging to push boundaries or because of peer influence, you could consider the following ideas:
- Work with your child on rules about going to school. Depending on your child’s age, this might be a good opportunity for negotiation too. For example, ‘You need to go to school every day. But I agree that it’s fair for you to go to the shops with Nia after school on Friday if you’re at school all week’. If your child has some say in making the rules and consequences, they’re more likely to stick to them.
- Get to know your child’s friends and peers. You can do this by encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them a space in your home, or giving your child’s friends a lift home after social outings.
- Encourage your child to make new friends through sport, church, community or family activities.
- Build your child’s confidence. If your child is more confident, they’ll be better able to resist negative peer influence. You can build your child’s confidence by praising them for resisting negative influences, encouraging them to try new things, helping them practise social skills, and being a role-model for confidence.
Encouraging pre-teens and teenagers to go to school
You can encourage your child to go to school every day just by showing interest in and support for their learning and education.
You can do this in simple, practical ways, like:
- actively listening when your child talks about school
- asking whether there’s anything you can do to help with schoolwork or homework
- encouraging your child to think about how their schoolwork might relate to their post-school study or work plans
- helping out at school – for example, in the canteen or during school fundraisers
- going to parent-teacher interviews, school performance nights and other school activities.
Why young people need to be at school
If your child goes to school on a regular basis, they’ll:
- have a better chance of making friends and fitting in at school
- get to know their teachers and other staff who can help them deal with difficult times
- keep up with schoolwork
- be more likely to go back to school if they have to miss it for illness or another reason
- be less likely to engage in risky behaviour
- have the best chance of reaching their full potential.
Young people who stay in school for longer have better outcomes, not just in education, but also in future employment, income, health and wellbeing.