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.
Dr Delia Baskerville is an Honorary Research Associate at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Education researching a novel approach that addresses truancy at its root.
Delia first became concerned about the impact of truancy on students’ wellbeing and future outcomes during her time as a high school teacher. She decided to pursue a PhD from Victoria University of Wellington to better understand the issue.
“I wrote the first process theory of wagging in the world that emerged from the analysis of student voices,” says Delia of her PhD research. Her theory clearly showed why students are truant, what happened when they left class, found other students truanting and when they were caught wagging, and how to reintegrate them into the classroom.
“My 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 PhD 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.”
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.
Joining the Emerging Innovator Programme
Delia teamed up with Wellington UniVentures to explore how her project, the Mattering Initiative, can be sustainably scaled up, so that more students, school staff and families can benefit from its holistic community approach to addressing truancy.
Wellington UniVentures supported Delia to join the KiwiNet Emerging Innovators programme to help develop her entrepreneurial skills and make the connections necessary to take her project forward.
Wellington UniVentures Acting CEO, Pierre Malou, says “We are excited to support Delia’s research through the Emerging Innovators Programme, and whatever commercialisation path she decides beyond that. Truancy is a major issue in New Zealand, and Delia’s novel approach has the potential to make a real difference in this space. It’s great to support an innovation from the social sciences: good ideas have impact, no matter what field of study they come from.”
Delia’s project is the Mattering Initiative, a programme 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.
It’s a holistic approach that recognises that students are only one piece of the truancy puzzle. Parents, teachers, and communities can all play a role in supporting students to stay in school. The theatre performance offers students a trusting and safe environment in which to build a more positive relationship with school. Alongside the play itself, the initiative also offers a raft of professional development resources to support teachers. Lastly, the initiative educates the wider community on the causes of truancy by sharing students’ who truant lived experiences through the play.
How will the Emerging Innovator programme support the project?
It’s a good time in her career to embark on the programme. Having recently retired from lecturing at the University, Delia is excited to fully dedicate her time to developing the Mattering Initiative.
Delia is applying what she learns in the EI programme to build a prototype of the Mattering Initiative, and she’s using the connections she makes to create a network of investors and partners that will help her scale it up.
“It’s about getting into the details of how I will develop, deliver and disseminate the programme in a sustainable way.”
Social justice is important to Delia, so she also hopes to use the programme to explore commercialisation models that align with her values.
“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.”