Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Something to Be Proud of - or Mere Falsification?: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Something to Be Proud of - or Mere Falsification?: News

Article excerpt

Schools accused of 'massaging' figures after absence rates fall.

When school absence rates fell to their lowest levels for six years recently, ministers congratulated teachers and parents for their hard work in combating a perennial education problem. But education welfare officers claim that schools could be "massaging" the figures. They fear that fewer children are being listed as absent because schools are registering pupils as participating in education when they are not at school.

Government statistics released last month showed that the official overall absence rate in state-funded primary and secondary schools fell from 6.1 per cent in the autumn term of 2010 to 4.7 per cent in autumn term 2011.

But the National Association of Social Workers in Education (NASWE) has warned that schools now realise they can take a "flexible" approach to registering pupils, even if they might be truanting. Cuts to the number of education welfare officers employed by local authorities and the growth of academies mean that school registers come under less scrutiny, according to NASWE.

One tactic among schools is to use a registration code (code "B") that records a pupil as not in school but being educated off-site. This does not count towards absentee figures.

"My sense is that the use of the code has probably increased substantially," said NASWE president Julie Parrish. "The incentive for schools has never been greater. Many more schools are effectively unregulated when it comes to school attendance.

"In the most recent government statistical release, there would seem to be a very impressive improvement in school attendance. However, there is doubt regarding the actual change.

"It is not just academies where the possibility of massaging the figures is likely to succeed. Many maintained schools do not now have an education welfare or social work service supporting and challenging them."

Education welfare services are increasingly being cut by councils as they struggle with tighter budgets. Attendance officers say they are less able to hold teachers to account and challenge decisions if schools have bought in their services than if services are supplied by local authorities.

"NASWE members have shared individual examples of headteachers challenging an education welfare officer's role when questioned about coding accuracy," Mrs Parrish said. …

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