Away with the fairies;Opinion

12th February 1999 at 00:00
WE HAVE devoted page eight this week to the Government's attendance and absence tables. The figures relate only to secondaries. In omitting the more extensive tables for primaries, we can plead in mitigation of any accusations of discrimination that the tables are virtually worthless, and the question should only be whether they should occupy any space whatsoever.

Have tables made any difference to the number of pupils who show up at school? The answer after six years is, no. Six per cent of primary pupils and 11 per cent of secondary pupils are absent. The Government has a target of reducing the incidence by one and a half days in primary and three days in secondary. Good luck, but it won't come about by naming and shaming schools . If statistics can be used as a drunk man uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination, some schools and authorities have not learnt the value of street furniture.

The problem lies in definition. What is authorised absence and what unauthorised? Schools that know what is good for them (in the political sense only) lump everything under "authorised", and various education authorities connive in the malpractice.

It is time to admit defeat and forget about the tables. The only way to reduce the wasted time away from school is by examples of proven practice such as those promoted through the Scottish Initiative on Attendance, Absence and Attainment. Schools with a problem should have their own targets - and their own strategies, based more on reward for the reluctant attenders than on sanctions against families whose circumstances lead to poor attendance. Persisting with risible national statistics only diverts attention from the challenge to schools.

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