Case study: Stonelaw high school

24th January 2003 at 00:00
Rutherglen, just outside Glasgow, is one of the oldest burghs in Scotland.

It has a strong sense of community identity and is proud of its history.

Stonelaw high is an integral part of both: a non-denominational, mixed comprehensive of 1,300 pupils, it has served the area since 1886.A new building replaced split-site provision in 1998.

Stonelaw is a truly comprehensive school with about one-third of pupils from the top socio-economic groupings, one third in the middle and one third at the lower end. The same proportions apply to the ability spectrum.

And 20 per cent of its pupils are from outside its catchment area - many from disadvantaged areas of Glasgow.

The school's reputation for multicultural projects and emphasis on respect for others also attracts many Asian and Traveller families. This makes for a diverse mix and is a strength in many respects. But, in terms of attendance rates, it adds to the complexity of problems.

Family holidays during term time and some children spending large amounts of time in the Asian sub-continent have a major impact on absence figures.

Plus, by law in Scotland, Traveller children must be registered in any school they attend (normally no more than two) and are "double-counted" to ensure places are kept and choices of subject honoured. In practice, this means a Traveller child is marked absent in one school for six months while being marked present in the one currently attended.

However, a cross-boundary issue is the biggest single factor depressing attendance figures. Stonelaw is in the South Lanarkshire council area, but one of the school's six feeder primaries is within Glasgow city council's boundaries - where many placing requests also come from. If these children truant, they're not always chased by Glasgow council as they go to school in another council's area. Historically, therefore, we have registered attendance rates below the national average. Like many other schools, we've found it a stubborn problem. What actions have made a difference?

First, we overhauled our systems and policies so we knew we were keeping accurate records and that all staff were following procedures. We also decided to stress the positive. Pupils now gain rewards for achieving 95 to 100 per cent attendances: gold, silver and bronze certificates, for example. Last year, nearly two-thirds achieved one of them. We do the same for effort and classwork. We have also revised the curriculum in consultation with pupils and parents.

Register teachers, who have a vital role as first point of contact, pursue non-attendance. But the biggest benefit came when we were able to increase the guidance team by 50 per cent. This increased one-to-one contact, improved monitoring and raised involvement.

More recently, we invested in "truancy call", an automated calling system that contacts the parents of selected absentees by telephone . This system - which has led to a 2 per cent improvement in attendance - also offers peace of mind to parents by immediately identifying first-time truants. In its first month, 37 children whose parents were unaware they were absent from school were identified; now the figure runs at two to three a month.

We have more contact with parents, more communication and the full support of our parent organisations.

Brian Cooklin is head of Stonelaw high school, Rutherglen, Glasgow

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