SCHOOL ATTENDANCE: WHAT THE EVIDENCE TELLS US
In South Australia, we are in an enviable educational position not shared by the majority of the world. Our students have been able to attend nearly EVERY DAY of school since May 2020. (They missed only two to three weeks before that date.) Our neighbours in Victoria endured nearly half a year of enforced school absence and, even with heroic “Remote Leaning Programs” and the advent of Zoom, Victorian students’ results have clearly suffered from physical absence from school. A report commissioned by the Centre for International Research on Education Systems at Victoria University in Melbourne found that, because of protracted physical absence from school, Victorian students faced “up to a 25% annual decline in mathematics learning and a 10% decline in English language skills”.
The literature on attendance and student outcomes is voluminous and includes a review of the literature conducted by the Queensland Department of Education that I refer to in this article. The conclusion of the paper is a sobering reminder of our responsibility as a College community to ensure students are at school (including school events) on every day possible:
“Every day absent may be impacting on student performance—thus, for school attendance, every day counts.” (Performance Insights: School Attendance, Qld Dept Education)
Analysis of attendance data found consistent correlations between attendance and student NAPLAN scores, later academic achievement and disciplinary absences. This aligns with findings in the research literature on a much broader range of student outcomes.
The literature suggests that a frequent absenteeism is associated with:
- poor academic achievements including lower levels of achievement on literacy (for example, reading and writing) and numeracy
- reduced opportunities for students to learn and access educational resources, e.g. programs, teachers who impact on students’ academic attainment
- further absenteeism in subsequent grades
- early school leaving – studies of early school leavers show that leaving school is merely the culminating act of a long withdrawal process from school
- leaving school with fewer qualifications
- alcohol, tobacco and substance use in adolescents – in fact, attendance is a stronger predictor of youth substance use than academic achievement
- unemployment and long-term unemployment
As an educator, and as a parent, I am challenged by these findings to reaffirm the central importance of regular school attendance. This means, wherever possible, scheduling appointments, outings and other interruptions to non-school time. Whilst this can be difficult, we need to be aware that, especially in a COVID world, there will be enough interruptions to schooling without adding to them.
As a leading Anglican College, and a member of Positive Education Schools Australia (PESA), we continue to strive to provide an inclusive, welcoming and nurturing educational environment- one which students want to attend and within which they understand the importance of attendance.
Director of Teaching and Learning