Edited version published in NT Suns on August 22 2017
ABSENCE MAY BE UNAVOIDABLE
The issue of school attendance in both remote and urban school situations is one continuing to attract attention. That has been so for the past 40 years. Solutions are proposed but often not followed up by authorities.
In 2009 the enrolment of school age children became compulsory. However, there are still many school aged children in the Territory who have never been enrolled.
For children in urban schools, absence for a host of reasons occurs during term time . A major factor is that of families taking holidays during school terms when airfares and accomodation are cheaper. Attendance can be a problem for all schools.
Lead from the front
Principals, school leadership teams and school councils need to be proactive when dealing with attendance issues. One strategy that works, is to encourage students on term time holidays, to develop a travelogue covering their experiences. This helps reinforce the learning children do while on family travels. Using media (photos and videos) to embellish adventures, adds to the written word. Trip diaries can be shared with classes and may even attract commendation and awards from classroom teachers and principals.
With a little imagination and by recognising travel as providing learning opportunities, these times away from school can become significant learning journeys for children.
While some parents request holiday assignments and worksheets, these are often not completed. That does not justify the time and effort taken by staff setting up these individual programs.
More than legislation needed
Legislating to solve attendance problems can be pretentious. The Tasmanian Government has decreed that from the beginning of 2018, no family holidays during term time will be allowed. Families will be liable for penalties of up to $2000 if they fail to follow this attendance directive.
Tasmania could have learned from the NT. We have legislation about school attendance, but when tested in court it has had very limited success. Further, the many steps that have to be actioned prior to any court hearing, are both lengthy and onerous.
There needs to be some follow up for all students on this issue, including recognition of children with outstanding attendance records. Mention in school newsletters and the presentation of merit certificates are two ways of acknowledging conscientious attenders. However, absences which result from family circumstances ought not be punitively treated. Encouraging children toward educational enrichment through their travels is a better option.