Half of Pilbara students ‘at risk’
A damning report by the Auditor-General has revealed more than 50 per cent of Pilbara students are at risk of “lifelong consequences” because they miss too much school.
In his report, Auditor-General Colin Murphy warned that almost 80,000 WA students were at educational risk because they did not go to school regularly.
Regular attendance refers to students who attend school more than 90 per cent of the time, equal to missing up to half a day a week.
Among those at the most risk, schools in the Pilbara figured highly, with only 47 per cent of all students in the region attending regularly under that definition.
Of the 28 Pilbara schools examined in the report, students at 23 schools were considered at severe educational risk because they missed more than two days of school a week.
Students at Yandeyarra and Jiggalong Remote Community Schools were deemed the most at risk, with only 2.8 and 7.3 per cent of students respectively attaining a regular attendance record.
The report revealed only 9 per cent of students at Roebourne District High School attended school more than 90 per cent of the school year.
Less than 30 per cent of students at Onslow and Nullagine Primary Schools recorded regular attendance.
Students at the remaining five schools in the Pilbara were deemed at moderate educational risk, with 60-79 per cent regular attendance.
Pilbara Education Regional Office executive director Sue Cuneo said low school attendance was not only an issue for schools in the Pilbara.
She said the Pilbara Educational Regional Office was committed to improving the educational achievements of all students in the region.
“During 2014 there were 14 attendance panels convened across the State, to date the Pilbara regional office has co-ordinated eight panels in 2015,” she said.
“There is an ongoing focus on building regular attendance in early childhood, as the initial attendance pattern of a child is a strong indicator of their subsequent attendance career.”
Ms Cuneo said there were many complex reasons for low attendance rates and attention needed to be given to school, family, community and individual factors.
“A ‘one size fits all’ approach to both attendance and engagement does not work ... schools need to consider their school culture in their planning to improve attendance,” she said.
“Successful strategies may include making regular phone calls to parents to provide information about their child’s progress, using the school carpark as an informal meeting place between the principal and parents, and teaching staff being available in the school grounds after school.
“There is need for shared responsibility for attendance between students, parents, schools, the community and other agencies.”
Education Minister Peter Collier said parents had to take responsibility for their children’s school attendance, but he did not favour harsh penalties.
“Parents must be part of the equation,” he said.
“Schools do all they possibly can, but fundamentally it must be a dual responsibility.”
Mr Murphy said it was “disappointing” the Education Department had failed to improve public school attendance rates across WA since his last audit in 2009, when 72 per cent of students attended regularly, compared with 70 per cent now.
The report also found the department’s method of reporting attendance as an average rate masked problems by not revealing the percentage of students regularly missing school.
It said the “score” might look quite good, even though some students were actually at severe educational risk.
The report criticised department strategies that did not improve attendance and its failure to evaluate them.
Labor Member for Mining and Pastoral Stephen Dawson said the “alarming figures” in this report should be a “wake-up call” to the Government.
“While we have dedicated principals and staff at Pilbara schools, the fact is that far too many kids are missing far too much school,” he said.
“The Minister for Education needs to get his department to analyse the information about the patterns and reasons for non-attendance so that more students are stopped from falling through the cracks.”
State Education Minister Peter Collier.