Legal responsibilities and national guidelines for schools on attendance

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

On this page:

School responsibilities for student attendance

Schools are responsible for the first response to any absences. Schools must:

  • have an attendance management policy
  • communicate their 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 each school and its 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 is open. Although there are some practical requirements, including maintaining a daily attendance register, it is up to individual schools to identify the scope of ‘all reasonable steps' in their attendance policies. School boards must give support when attendance issues arise.

For more information, go to appendix one of Attendance Matters [PDF, 1.6 MB].

Staggered transition to school

As a result of changes to the Education Act 1989, 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, the school principal and the Ministry of Education.

Once a child has started school (any time before the age of 6), if issues emerge that full time attendance is difficult then a transition plan may be put in place.

Once a transition plan is in place, the child will then be required to attend school in accordance with that plan. Schools are to use the ‘J’ (justified absence) attendance code in their Electronic Attendance Register to record absences that align with the transition plan.

A template has been developed to support the process of agreeing a transition plan. We note there is no requirement to use this template, a simple email trail showing the parents, principal and Ministry of Education have agreed to the plan is sufficient to meet the legislative requirements.

Contact your local Ministry service manager for assistance with developing a transition plan

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 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 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 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 are in a safe learning environment.

For more information on the relevant guidelines, go to Attendance Matters [PDF, 1.6 MB]Appendix 1, page 15.

Futher Information

Training for schools in managing attendance

  • 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, contact us at:

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback