Pupils lost in the system

12th December 1997 at 00:00
A transient pupil population moving in and out of schools at will is playing + havoc with attendance and attainment, according to figures collated by a + Glasgow headteacher. Jim Cassels, head of Bellahouston Academy, has unmasked "a+ large number of pupils moving around the system who show no commitment to + their education, sometimes attending more than one secondary school in just + four years, with an obviously adverse effect on their progress"His experience + was confirmed by Kenny Dykes, head of Barrhead High in East Renfrewshire, who + told a national conference on attendance in Edinburgh on Tuesday that his + previous school in Glasgow had 46 per cent pupil turnover from first to fourth + year. "Multiply that by pupil absences, teacher turnover and teacher absences + and you have an idea of the scale of the problem," he said.The Bellahouston + figures, which Dr Cassels presented to the same conference at which this year's+ "truancy tables" were launched, show that only 75 per cent of last session's + fourth year had a full education there; the remaining quarter moved in and + out.This picture emerged in the week when the Government targeted education as + a key factor in combatting "social exclusion," an initiative launched in London+ and Glasgow by the Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary.Professor John + MacBeath, director of the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill, confirmed + the existence of the problem from his UK school effectiveness studies. He said + it stems from a mixture of factors, including families breaking up, housing + problems, migration and parents often keeping one step ahead of the law. The + average attendance of Bellahouston pupils who were present in the school for + the first four years was 80 per cent; for the mobile group it was only 65 per + cent.The school also found that, while 5 per cent of completed enrolments to S4+ had less than 50 per cent attendance, 36 per cent of the second group spent + less than half their time in school.The links to attainment are stark: 18 per + cent of the pupils who started in first year achieved seven or eight Standard + grades 1-3, while only 3 per cent of the incomplete attenders did. The former + group had 43 per cent without any Standard grades 1-3, compared with 73 per + cent of the latter. "Does attendance matter?" Dr Cassels asked. "You bet it + does."Apart from monitoring the position, the school is operating the "flexible+ curriculum" given the official go-ahead by Glasgow in July. This allows some + pupils to take seven rather than eight Standard grades so they can spend more + time on the basic skills and build up their self-esteem.Margaret Orr, + Glasgow's senior education officer, said sporadic appearances by pupils are "a + major drain on the energies of staff as they struggle to make pupils catch up, + which then affects the work of the rest of the class. It makes a significant + contribution to teacher stress and can lead staff to take the attitude that the+ pupils might as well stay away."In his speech to the conference Brian Wilson, + the Education Minister, called on schools to act against parentally condoned + absences, or "authorised absences". This reached a peak last session at St + Mary's Primary in Stirling (16 per cent) and Drumchapel High in Glasgow (26 per+ cent). Social background should not be used as an alibi for poor attendance, + Mr Wilson added. "We don't take this attitude when we are dealing with adults."+ High levels of absenteeism in the workplace would be laid at the door of + management and structure of the organisation to identify why the workforce was + not being successfully motivated.

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