Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Get Tough, Stick to Your Guns and Be 'Relentless': News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Get Tough, Stick to Your Guns and Be 'Relentless': News

Article excerpt

Behaviour tsar wants primaries to crack down on poor attendance.

Any parent keeping their child out of lessons at Jubilee Park Primary, even because of illness, has learned to expect a knock on the door from headteacher Heidi Conner or one of her members of staff.

The policy at the school in Tipton, West Midlands, is part of a concerted effort to crack down on truancy and poor attendance. Even parents of pupils with perfect records receive visits.

And it appears to work. This no-nonsense approach has led to a rise in the school's attendance rate, from 91.1 per cent in 2005 to 97.8 per cent this year.

Now the government's behaviour expert, Charlie Taylor, has said that more primaries should be making this sort of effort to stop younger children being away from school.

Mr Taylor, who published his report on school attendance at the beginning of this week, wants a greater focus on tackling attendance problems among primary and nursery pupils. Teachers should be more vigilant about absence and should challenge parents who cannot provide a legitimate reason, he said.

The report claims that primary school teachers authorise absence rather than challenging it because this approach allows them to "avoid confrontation". According to Mr Taylor, this means that there is no evidence to prosecute parents for non-attendance.

Mr Taylor - who is on sabbatical from the headship of a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties in West London - singled out Jubilee Park, which serves a community of predominately white, working-class families with high levels of deprivation, for praise in his report.

Ms Conner told TES that she experienced a "lot of verbal aggression" from parents when she introduced her tougher approach on her appointment in 2005. Now, however, children tell their families that they want to go to school.

"Before, there was a lot of parentally condoned absence and this wasn't challenged," she said. "But we've stuck to our guns. We've been relentless. You've got to be prepared to stand up and take the aggression.

"There's been a lot of work to educate parents - for example, telling them that children with coughs, colds and headaches do not need to be off school. And I don't authorise absence so families can take cheap holidays."

Even nursery pupils are expected to have an excellent attendance record. Parents are interviewed if attendance falls below 95 per cent.

"Primary schools currently allow children to have twice as much time off for holidays and religious observance as secondary schools," Mr Taylor said in his report. …

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