True picture of the disaffected
IN MARCH 2006 Jane Davidson, the then minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, made a commitment to undertake a national review of behaviour and attendance (NBAR).
A steering group was formed to establish a true picture of the situation in Wales, to consider good practice in tackling attendance and behaviour issues and to produce recommendations for the Assembly government.
The group comprised representatives of key stakeholder groups and colleagues from inspection body Estyn and the Children's Commissioner's Office for Wales.
The review was undertaken in accordance with the Assembly government's vision for the future development of policy and provision for children and young people in Wales as exemplified by The Learning Country: Vision into Action.
The review team was conscious of Wales's ever-changing societal demography, not least the disproportionate number of pupils who come from working-class backgrounds compared with much of the rest of the UK and the growth of a multi-ethnic culture and the rise in single-parent families.
Specifically, the group was given four tasks by the minister:
* to explore ways in which parents, children and young people and the community can be more effectively supported and engaged in the promotion of positive behaviour and attendance;
* to identify effective practice in promoting positive behaviour and attendance and ways in which this practice could be embedded and disseminated in schools and local authorities across Wales;
* to identify the effective use of multi-agency partnerships in tackling poor attendance and behaviour, including regional models;
* to identify potential new Wales-only legislation, which could be sought under the Government of Wales Act 2006, to promote discipline and attendance, including specific consideration of education for excluded pupils.
The Interim Report is the result of the first six months' work, which took place between January and June 2007. In the second stage, the group plans to consult with children and young people, parents, teachers and key stakeholders along with health and social services professionals.
The Interim Report came from ideas generated by four working groups established during the first phase of the review. These groups of nominated professionals and stakeholders (including colleagues from the voluntary sector) adopted a child-friendly approach.
The first group considered issues affecting the behaviour and attendance of all children and young people in school. The second focused on those who cause low-level disruption.
The third considered children and young people at risk of exclusion. The final group concentrated on children being educated outside school settings who had serious histories of disruptive behaviour, non-attendance or both.
It is already clear that certain issues stand out. First, most schools in Wales are orderly and well-managed. But there is concern that levels of unauthorised absence are too high, particularly among primary-aged pupils rates of unauthorised absence in Wales are double those for England.
Second, many professionals have received little or no training in managing attendance or behaviour. The coping skills of parents may also be inadequate.
Third, although there is Assembly government guidance on managing exclusions, implementation processes vary considerably between authorities.
There are significant variations in the policy and practice of managing actual and potential exclusions, and the costs of looking after excluded pupils are high. There are a number of pupils "out of school" who are not being properly monitored or receiving an appropriate education.
Fourth, although some excellent alternative curriculum provision exists, this also tends to vary in quality. In some parts of Wales there are too few places available.
The second stage of the Review has already begun. Two sub-groups on school attendance met in July. The first group considered attendance codes and suggested some areas for change.
The second group looked at the law on attendance, including the role of magistrates' courts, truancy sweeps and the NfER Wales Review into the role of the Education Welfare Service.
* The Interim Report is at: www.nbarwales.co.ukacypcymru.co.uk