Growing fears over Swan View absenteeism

Absenteeism has been linked to poor educational outcomes.
Absenteeism has been linked to poor educational outcomes.

Other schools with below-average attendance in 2013 included Governor Stirling Senior High School in Woodbridge, Darling Range Sports College in Forrestfield, Kalamunda Senior High School Education Support Centre and Forrestfield Primary School.

The Education Department defines regular school attendance as 90 per cent or more of the academic year.

Overall public school turnout in WA last year averaged 91 per cent, but with 3.6 per cent (9348) of students categorised as ‘at severe high risk’ due to their low attendance. Students in this category attended school less than 60 per cent of the time.

Of the 384 students at Swan View Senior High School in 2013, 12 per cent (46 students) were ‘at severe high risk’, with 4.6 per cent of Swan View Primary School’s 395 students in the same red alert category.

Any absence from school has a negative impact on academic achievement, according to University of WA Professor Stephen Zubrick, the co-author of a new study, Every Day Counts, commissioned by the Federal Government.

The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research collected data from more than 400,000 WA students over five years and found a link between poor school attendance and a decline in literacy and numeracy levels; even for Year 1 students.

Mr Zubrick said the study dismissed the common view there was any safe level of absence for students, with missed days at primary school having a cumulative effect on learning decline and attendance behaviour at senior school.

Education Department executive director for statewide services Lindsay Hale said students who did not attend school regularly were followed up.

He said the reasons why students repeatedly failed to turn up could be complex and solutions needed to involve the student, the parents and the community.

Parents struggling to get children to attend school are encouraged to speak with their children’s school for support.

‘Changing the poor school attendance of individual students is extremely difficult if their parents or caregivers are not on board,’ Mr Hale said.

‘In some places, schools pick up students with low attendance and take them to school, feed them at breakfast clubs and offer activities to interest the children in their learning,’ he said.

There are currently more than 470 school attendance officers in WA with the authority to stop, detain and question students found out of school during school hours.

In cases where students are persistently absent, attendance advisory panels and responsible parent agreements take effect, with legal action pursued against parents as a last resort, Mr Hale said.

Under the State Government’s new student-centred funding model announced recently, all public schools will run their own budget from next year (see fact box winners and losers).

Principals will determine how funding is best used to support their students and Mr Hale said this would include attendance initiatives.

Greenmount Primary School principal Lucy Webb attributes her school’s 95 per cent attendance rate in 2013 to a combination of initiatives and a good communication process.

‘There is no simple answer or strategy, it’s about students, teachers and parents working together and having a process that is understood by everyone,’ Mrs Webb said.

‘If a student is away for two days, we contact the parents to find out if they are aware their child is not attending and we try to find out why the child is absent while also asking (where appropriate) if there is anything we can do.’