Rates of absenteeism and truancy have historically been much
higher in Wales than in most other parts of the UK. The position
now is little different. In 2000-1, official statistics indicate
that pupils missed 10.4 per cent of school sessions in Wales; of
these, unauthorised absence accounted for 1.6 per cent.
Unauthorised absence rates were disproportionately high in Cardiff
(3.8 per cent), Pembrokeshire (2.5 per cent), Swansea (2.5 per
cent), Rhondda Cynon Taf (2 per cent) and Caerphilly (2 per
As a consequence, the Welsh assembly established an attendance task
group, made up of professionals and practitioners from a variety of
interested services, for advice. This group presented its report to
education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson in December
The group sub-divided its findings into two parts, short- and
long-term recommendations (see panels, below). It is to the
minister’s credit that she recognised that longer-term planning is
as important as short-term “fixes”.
However, to achieve significant progress on attendance issues,
there will need to be careful scrutiny of the role and extent of
the education welfare service. This service suffered severe cuts in
numbers and resources in the 1980s and early 1990s. In some local
education authorities, the number of educational welfare officers
(EWOs) is far too low for the complex tasks they fulfil, especially
given the range and diversity of their work and extent of the new
The allocation of staff and resources to the EWO service by the
education authorities is, at best, patchy and, in some,
disproportionate to the tasks to be undertaken. It is unfortunate
that, at the time a renewed effort is being made to improve
attendance rates in schools, some LEAs are overstretched as they
struggle to manage the diffuse nature and interdisciplinary and
multidisciplinary issues involved.
Quite separately, the Welsh assembly is undertaking a timely review
of the 14-19 curriculum. It is becoming apparent that there is an
urgent need for an alternative vocational curriculum to run
alongside the more academic national curriculum if pupil
disaffection is to be combated and pupils’ overall attendance rates
The link between disaffected pupils and school attendance is so
obvious that it is to be hoped that the final report on the 14-19
curriculum will feature attendance issues as a critical section in
its own right. At the same time, as more than one in three cases of
truancy begins at the primary stage, some more projects on early
intervention and transition will be necessary.
Ken Reid is an expert on truancy, deputy principal of
Swansea Institute of Higher Education and the author of Truancy
– Short and Long Term Solutions.
- Simplify the guidance on clarifying why pupils are
- Establish how many primary schools have readily available
figures on attendance rates.
- Audit the methods of passing information between primary and
secondary schools on individual pupil’s attendance.
- Evaluate local education authorities’ spending on attendance
- Audit schools’ and LEAs’ attendance policies, how up-to-date
these are and how well they link together.
- Consider the approaches to be used in pursuing legal action on
- Perform truancy sweeps on a regular basis in each LEA.
- Review the extent of electronic registration schemes and
develop a strategy for extending their use.
- Review the funding, role and responsibilities of the education
- Clarify and simplify the funding streams used to tackle
- Establish systems to share good and innovative practice.
- Do a pilot study on reducing absence in two schools to assess
the extent to which this is possible, thereby informing future
- Increase the level of intervention at primary school
- Develop a framework for multi-agency working, including
- Review the process for taking attendance cases through the