Tough new standards for local authorities and schools have been set out by the Assembly government in a bid to improve pupil attendance - three years after a groundbreaking report called for urgent action.
The long-awaited All Wales Attendance Framework details for the first time the roles and responsibilities of education welfare officers, whose work has been criticised as being inconsistent and ineffective.
It sets out when schools should refer cases to the Education Welfare Service (EWS) and the legal options available for local authorities - including attendance orders and, in extreme cases, prosecution.
It also reminds schools of their duty to keep a twice-daily attendance register, to develop a whole school attendance policy and to keep a close working relationship with the EWS. It contains a good practice guide for schools, with strategies to improve attendance and manage lateness.
The long-term aim of the 80-page document is to raise levels of attendance in Welsh schools and improve standards and performance.
It stems from the 2008 National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR), which said Wales had greater problems of non-attendance than the rest of the UK. Recent statistics revealed that primary school absenteeism rates in Wales have not improved in the past decade.
NBAR chair Professor Ken Reid has been openly critical of the Government's slow response to his report and recently said absenteeism rates would have fallen by now had its proposals been implemented sooner.
But the former deputy vice-chancellor of Swansea Metropolitan University said the EWS undertakes a "valuable role".
"The entire NBAR team will be delighted by this significant step forward in helping to create a fully professional service for Wales," he said.
NAHT Cymru director Anna Brychan said heads had been struggling to tackle absenteeism for years, with often disjointed support from local authorities.
"This is finally a recognition that schools cannot sort out these problems alone and need the help of other agencies," she said.
Speaking at the launch in Newport, education minister Leighton Andrews said: "When a child is not in the classroom, the child isn't learning and that is unacceptable.
"This is the first time a document of this kind has been published in Wales. I hope that by giving Education Welfare Service the tools they need to do their job, we can reduce absenteeism in Wales and drive up standards across the board."
Framework: How to tackle absenteeism
- Attendance is the responsibility of the whole school, but a staff member with overall responsibility should be appointed.
- All staff should have access to the education welfare officer, not just pastoral staff.
- Schools must keep a twice-daily attendance register.
- Pupils must be aware that registration is a vital part of the day.
- Schools must be cautious when authorising absence, investigating if suspicious.
- Schools should develop an attendance policy with staff, governors, parents and pupils.
- Schools must recognise the importance of early intervention.