I strongly support her main contention that it makes no sense to count study leave as absence but feel that even in its present unsatisfactory form the report has some value in asserting that attendance and absence have a major impact on performance.
There is, however, no need for the statistics to be so unhelpful. First, the Scottish Executive Education Department should simplify their definition of absence to cover any occasion in which the pupil is not able to follow a prescribed course of study.
Second, they should advise schools to conduct their own analysis of absences, this being the first step in improving its attendance record. The type of analysis will reflect local conditions, but the SED could suggest a number of models. One might be to work out within each year how many pupils are absent for how many half-days within the following categories: (1) family holidays, (2) extended visits overseas, (3) illness, (4) family circumstances and (5) truancy. Then the school will know where the main problems lie and be able to set up strategies for dealing with them.
In the case of (1) and (2), parents need to be educated in their responsibilities, a task in which headteachers and school boards need support locally and nationally. In the case of (3) and (4), there needs to be strong liaison with social and medical services. The last category is the most worrying. It calls for the urgent action of register teachers, guidance staff and attendance officers, will certainly involve the parents and could end in a radical change to a pupil's course of study.
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