Laurie Bidwell

Labour spokesperson on Education in Dundee

 

Commenting on Continuing High Levels of Pupil Absence in Dundee Schools

14 December 2015

Being at the bottom of a national league table for pupil absence is not where we want to be in our schools and our city.

Days lost through absence from school are days lost from learning.

Of course it is important to recognise that average attendances mask the fact that a majority of our pupils have excellent attendance at school.

On the other hand, a relatively small proportion of pupils may have a very poor record of attendance which depresses the average attendance in a specific school and across the city.

However we interpret them however, there is a job to be done to raise the average citywide attendance.

When we look for solutions, I have misgivings about putting too much reliance on short term projects employing temporary staff.

When their project is over , after two or three years, the initiatives they have begun may well be unsustainable by the remaining core staff in a school.

The reduction in the number of Guidance staff in Secondary Schools and the number of Depute Head Teachers in our Primary Schools will not have helped our schools focus on tackling non attendance.

These cuts have reduced the staff who would directly follow up these issues with pupils and their teachers as well as parents and carers.

Just now the Council is consulting on a plan to reduce by a third the number of places for pupils in our three small scale Education Centres which offer an alternative to secondary pupils who are disengaged from their secondary schools who often have multiple additional support for learning needs.

Currently many of the pupils who transfer to one of these centres experience a dramatic improvement to their attendance and participation in learning.

I am concerned that the vague alternative and much cheaper services the Council are discussing will make matters worse not better for these pupils and less effective in promoting their attendance and participation by these pupils.

If we are going to tackle a low average attendance in our schools, relative to other Councils in Scotland, I think we need to stick with what currently works and promote initiatives that have the backing of staff and parents and carers, rather than impose more short term initiatives from the centre.