26 September 2023

Education audit calls on schools to learn

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A performance audit into how the Department of Education managed the attendance in Government schools by students has recommended the Department place greater attention on supporting schools to address widespread attendance problems.

In her report School Attendance, Auditor-General Margaret Crawford said there were too many students in NSW Government schools who regularly missed school.

“In semester one of 2021, around a third of students in Years 1–10 attended school less than 90 per cent of the time,” Ms Crawford said, “a level that puts their educational outcomes at risk.”

“Attendance problems are widespread,” she said.

“Seven hundred and seventy-five of 2,200 schools in NSW had an average attendance rate below 90 per cent in 2021.”

Ms Crawford said Aboriginal student attendance was significantly below non-Aboriginal students, with the gap having grown since 2018, and there was no specific strategy to address it.

“There are relatively new programs supporting Aboriginal students in secondary school to attain their Higher School Certificate, but greater attention should be placed on supporting attendance for Aboriginal students in primary schools,” she said.

The Auditor-General said that since 2018, the Department had improved the quality of student attendance data, analysis and reporting however, there were still gaps in understanding the reasons for absence at a system level.

“The Department set State-wide and school-level targets to increase the proportion of students attending school at least 90 per cent of the time,” she said.

“This emphasis risks diverting attention away from students with very low attendance rates.”

Ms Crawford made nine recommendations to the Department, including that it set new State-wide attendance targets; update its attendance strategies and programs; review programs supporting Aboriginal student attendance and address any gaps; and publish the attendance level for each school in their annual reports.

She also recommended the Department review the approach of enforcing compulsory school attendance.

The Auditor-General’s 32-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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