The problem of truancy is shared throughout the world (see Reid 1987, Andrews 1986). Whitney (1994:15), a British researcher, notes that ‘Truancy, like poverty, has a lengthy past history, and the two have always been closely related.’ New Zealand’s basic legal requirement of compulsory school attendance for everyone between the ages of 6 and 16 relates to a history of free education provision for all children and young people living in this country. Attendance at school has been a political issue in New Zealand since the Education Act 1877. In 1995, the Education and Science Select Committee inquiry into children at risk through truancy and behavioural problems recognised truancy as being widespread throughout the country (New Zealand House of Representatives 1995).
In 1992, the Ministry of Education became involved in the funding of programmes aimed at improving school attendance. In February, the Ministry of Education proposed that Māori Wardens undertake development of a programme to combat absenteeism among students in school. Later that year, the Ministry offered funding to the Rotorua Māori Wardens’ Association to develop and operate on a one-year trial basis for 1993 a programme, Te Kupenga O Te Aroha, to return to school students who were absent without justified reason.
Further government initiatives to address the problem of truancy in the nation's schools have resulted in additional funding to establish and extend truancy prevention programmes nationwide. Since the 1994 Budget, Government has allocated resources for truancy programmes. In 1994/95 the total allocation was $0.5 million, in 1995/96, $1.5 million, and in 1996/97, $2.5 million. In its 1997 Budget, the Government again increased the funding allocated. These programmes are designed to assist schools, parents and support agencies to improve school attendance in a particular locality, and to deal with non-enrolment and tracking students ‘lost’ from the system. The Ministry of Education takes truancy to mean both unjustified absences and non-enrolment of students of compulsory schooling age, that is, 6 to 16 years.