Raised absentee rates blamed on family breakdown

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Increase in primary school non-attendance points to worsening social ills, expert warns

Family breakdown is pushing up rates of absenteeism in Welsh primary schools, according to a renowned behaviour expert.

Professor Ken Reid, who authored the groundbreaking "National Behaviour and Attendance Review" (NBAR), said new figures showing a rise in absences highlighted growing problems in society.

Statistics released last week show that overall absenteeism in Welsh primaries increased slightly, from 6.7 per cent of half-day sessions missed in 200708 to 6.8 per cent in 200809.

Levels of unauthorised absence increased from 0.9 per cent to 1 per cent.

The statistics also reveal that 92,900 pupils aged five to 10 - 47.1 per cent of the total cohort - missed more than two weeks of school last year.

Regional variations are still a factor, with unauthorised absences in rural areas generally much lower than those in large towns and cities.

Professor Reid, former deputy vice-chancellor of Swansea Metropolitan University, described the figures as "disappointing".

He said: "Why are rates of absence not getting any better despite all the policies we have?

"Other societal factors must be making things worse. There's a whole range of factors involved, but probably as much as anything I think it's the extent of family breakdown that's taking place."

The statistics show that socio-economic factors have a strong influence, with absenteeism rates rising along with the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals.

In primaries where more than 30 per cent of pupils get free meals, overall absence is 8.8 per cent while the unauthorised rate stands at 2.2 per cent.

Professor Reid urged the Assembly government to put in place the early- intervention policies set out in the pound;1 million NBAR action plan it launched last year.

It calls for attendance problems to be spotted much earlier, and to arrange for pupils get help "before crisis point is reached".

This "culture of early intervention" should start from the beginning of school life, with even foundation phase teachers getting special training, the report says.

A government spokesman said schools, local authorities and parents must work together to tackle the "challenging issue" of absenteeism.

However, Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Headteachers Cymru, said many heads had reported higher-than-usual rates of illness last year, coupled with problems caused by heavy snowfall last February.

A government spokesman also said the snow was a "significant factor".

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