Mixed response by heads to school absence report

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Headteachers in South Holland have given a mixed reaction to a report from county education chiefs calling for the number of holidays taken by pupils during term time to be cut.

Details of the report, Every Day Matters – An Attendance Strategy, were published in last week’s Spalding Guardian and showed that almost 600 pupils in South Holland missed lessons for three weeks or more during the 2010/11 school year.

It also stated that 26 primary schools and three secondary schools in the area had a persistent absence level, defined as 15 per cent or more in a term, above the national average.

Illness was the most common reason for absence across the county but almost ten per cent of pupils missed lessons because of family holidays agreed by headteachers.

Martyn Taylor, headteacher of Thomas Cowley High School in Donington, said: “We’re working really hard on our school target of 95 per cent attendance and we’re at 94.6 per cent at the moment.

“But we’re in a rural community where parents have jobs that prevent them taking holidays during the summer.

“We also have some severely disadvantaged students whose parents can’t go on holidays at peak times because they simply can’t afford it.

“I understand the council’s drive on school attendance but I think what’s missing from the report is an analysis of the impact caused by the cut in hours for education welfare officers.”

Heather Beeken, headteacher of St Paul’s Primary School in Spalding, said: “Attendance has been a big focus here for a number of years and one of our priorities was to improve our attendance to match national levels.

“We’ve employed lots of strategies to reduce the number of pupils who have been persistently absent and the most succesful ones have been where we’ve tried to make parents realise that it’s not always the best thing to take their children away during term time.”

John O’Connor, Lincolnshire County Council’s head of school admissions, said: “There is no evidence that the availability of education welfare officers affects school absence in relation to authorised family holidays or days missed at school for medical or dental appointments.

“It is for the school to decide whether to authorise family holidays or not.”