Unexplained Absences in our Schools Need Explanation and Action

31 December 2011

The publication of statistics about 'unexplained absences' of pupils in Dundee schools reveals a very varied picture.

While the total number of these absences across the city has apparently reduced from previous years there are still huge differences between schools.

But the total number of unexplained absences in our schools remains unacceptable.

I notice that Barnhill Primary School in The Ferry, has the lowest rate of unexplained absences. With 415 pupils it had 126 in the year.

This works out on average at much less than one unexplained absence per pupil per year.

On the other hand, I notice that Rowantree Primary School, with 258 pupils and 4920 unexplained absences would appear to have the highest rate in the city.

That works out on average at 19 unexplained absences per pupil per year - nearly two weeks schooling a year.

Rowantree Primary School's rate of unexplained absences is 63 times the rate at Barnhill Primary School.

Now how can differences like this be explained or tolerated?

It would be too easy to jump to the conclusion that this is all down to parents and carers and their attentiveness to notifying their child's primary school for their reason for an absence. Perhaps there are more reasons for such wide differences which I think merit some thorough investigation.

Since unexplained absences involve both teachers and administrative staff using a computer programme to record information about attendance, perhaps there are differences in how this is undertaken between staff and between schools?

Have some of our schools had significant absences in their administrative staff that has affected their ability to accurately record what is going on?

Whatever the explanation, every day of unexplained absence is a day of learning at school which is lost.

When children return to school after an absence, their return may often mean that their teacher's time is diverted from the rest of the class so that they can bring the returning pupil up to speed.

Of course no one minds if this absence is for a reason that is essential or could not be prevented. In the case of unexplained absences there is a suspicion that many of these may be unnecessary.

I hope these statistics will be raised with Head Teachers and also with Parent Councils to see how they think we can reduce the number of unexplained absences in all our schools to a more acceptable level.


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