The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) established a task force in order to lead the drive to improve rates of pupils' attendance in Wales (WAG, 2003a). Historically, Wales has consistently had some of the highest rates of pupil absenteeism in the United Kingdom (Carroll, 1977; Reid, 1985, 2004). Truancy and school absenteeism were considered to be Wales's No. 1 educational problem, according to the Chief Inspector of Schools for Wales (Estyn, 2004).
The task force report made a number of short and long-term recommendations (WAG, 2003a, b). Its key short-term recommendations were: to simplify WAG's guidance on clarifying absence as indicated in Circular 3/99; to establish how many primary schools have readily available figures on attendance rates; to commence an audit of the methods of passing information between primary and secondary schools on individual pupils' attendance; to undertake an audit and evaluation of local education authorities' (LEAs) spending on attendance issues, more especially the destination of Grants for Education Support and Training (GEST) funding and the pilot projects for tackling disaffection; to undertake an audit of schools' and LEAs' attendance policies, how up to date these are and how well they link together; to consider the approaches to be used in pursuing legal action on parental-condoned cases; and, to perform truancy sweeps on a regular basis in each LEA.
Long-term recommendations were: to review the cost and extent of electronic registration schemes throughout Wales and to develop a strategy for extending their use to an appropriate standard; to clarify and simplify the funding streams in Wales used to tackle non-attendance and truancy; to establish systems to share good and innovative practice between professions in tackling truancy; to conduct a pilot study on reducing absence in two or three schools in order to assess the extent to which it is possible, thereby informing future funding; to increase the level of intervention at primary school level; to develop a framework for multi-agency working, including the necessary continuous professional development (CPD) elements; to review the process of taking attendance cases through magistrates' courts, including the link between magistrates' clerks and the educational welfare service as well as the timetable for hearing attendance cases; and to review the funding, role and responsibilities of the education welfare service in Wales to include professional development.
The task and finish group report was considered by WAG on 28 February 2003. It was approved to go forward for action. Subsequently, a new group to oversee the implementation of the task and finish group's recommendations was established in order to manage the exercise through to completion. This article is based on the findings of the funded research project into the role and effectiveness of the education welfare service (EWS) in Wales (SCYA, 2005, 2006).
The context of WAG's policies, its approach to implementing the Children Act, and its approach to other core issues, such as improving school attendance, need to be set alongside its seven core aims. These are:
1 A flying start to life (through such schemes as Sure Start, Parenting Support, Early Years Education, and Developing Language and Literacy Skills).
2 A comprehensive range of education, training and learning opportunities; these include features of The Learning Country (the Foundation Phase, Narrowing the Gap, Class Sizes in Primary Schools, 14-19 Reforms, the Welsh Baccalaureate and Iaith Pawb), Assessment and Testing Policies, Listening to Learners, Bullying and Exclusion Strategies, Transitions, Inclusive Education, Community-focused Schools, Creating an Environment for Learning, and School Breakfast Entitlements.
3 The best possible health, free from abuse, victimisation and exploitation, which ensures priority for those children most in need.
4 Improving play, leisure, sporting and cultural activities at both national and local level. …