The statistics published by the Scottish Government in December indicated the extent of pupil absences in Dundee Schools. Their table of results indicated that Dundee was the bottom of the league table of 32 education authorities on these measures.
These statistics showed that in 2012/13 the percentage attendance in Scottish local authority schools ranged from the highest 95.5 per cent (East Renfrewshire) to the lowest 92.3 per cent (Dundee City). This means Dundee has the highest pupil absence rate in Scotland in the last complete school year. A 3.2 per cent difference may not seem much but translated into days missed over a year it stacks up. In fact it means that on average, every pupil in Dundee misses more than one week more than pupils in East Renfrewshire. No wonder the exam results are better in East Renfrewshire.
Looking more closely at the figures for Dundee, it means that on average each pupil in Dundee misses fifteen days or three weeks of schooling a year. This adds up to almost one year of schooling lost by every pupil during their 5-16 compulsory school years. Of course I know that averages like this mask wide variations between schools and pupils. Some pupils will have perfect attendance and so by implication some pupils must be absent for lengthy periods of time.
Any day of absence from school is a day of missed learning opportunities. If we want to increase the attainment of our pupils, we need to reduce the number of days at school that are lost through absence for reasons that are avoidable.
This was reinforced by the publication of OECD international research about truancy. This report said that higher truancy rates in schools throughout Britain are leaving pupils lagging behind their peers in top-performing nations across Europe and the Far East. More specifically the research showed that a fifth of pupils in UK secondary schools admitted to skipping a least a day of lessons over a two week period period to the survey.
Right now we need some detailed explanation of what is going wrong and why the absence rate has apparently been creeping up in Dundee but decreasing elsewhere. I think we need to hear from the Director of Education about a way forward. We need to hear more how our schools, working with pupils and parents and carers, are tackling this issue. It surely needs to be much more than the Education Convener’s advocacy of taking some secondary pupils on visits to meet offenders in prison.
Judging by the avoidance of detail about Absences, apart from ‘Exclusions’ in the annual Standards and Quality Report also on the Agenda last Monday, it looks as though, if I hadn’t raised this there would not have been an opportunity for the Education Committee to engage with this important issue.
At the end of this item the Education Committee approved my motion:
- instructs the Education Director to include absence issues including but not exclusively exclusions in the annual standards and quality report to the Education Committee and
- recommends that strategies for absence reduction are given higher emphasis in the process of Annual Reviews and Extended School Reviews.