Tackling truancy through theatre

Published Apr 24, 2023

Dr Delia Baskerville is an Honorary Research Associate at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Education developing a new and innovative approach to tackling youth truancy, with support from Wellington UniVentures and the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme. 

Truancy is a complex and rising issue in Aotearoa New Zealand. School absence has been steadily declining since 2015 and – following a 40% spike in truancy post-pandemic – it's now considered a crisis.

 “My PhD research shows that an important aspect for students who truant was mattering – finding care and respect that they didn’t have in the classroom. I thought a theatre performance would provide a great avenue to disseminate the findings from my PhD.”

She turned her research into a theatre script that could be performed by youth who truant. She led a successful pilot of the performance at Porirua College, where year 12 and 13 students performed the play to packed audiences over five nights.

The stories in the play resonated with the student actors and that helped them feel engaged and connected, says Delia.

“In the process of putting on the play, students talked about building trust, feeling respected and safe. The play provided a foundation for hooking them back into school. We found that many of the students involved in the play stopped truanting as a result.”

Thus the 'Mattering Initiative' was born - a holistic approach that aims to alleviate the attribution of blame and increase attendance rates in schools through students and educators putting on a theatre performance for their school and community.  

Confident that her novel approach has merit, Delia is eager to scale it up and roll it out to schools across the country and beyond with support from Wellington UniVentures and the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme. 

Alongside the play itself, Delia is building a suite of professional development resources to support teachers and educate the wider community on the causes of truancy by sharing students' lived experiences. 

“The thought of being able to use what I’ve learned to make a difference for the young people, families and communities of New Zealand is just remarkable.”