Student attendance has been demonstrated to be linked to student academic outcomes, although the nature of the link is complex. CESE’s Government School Student Attendance 2018 bulletin summarises attendance rates by:
- student level of education
- Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students
- proportion of students attending 90% or more of the time
- distribution of students' attendance
- impact of National standards on NSW government schools’ attendance rates.
CESE’s analysis of Semester 1 2018 attendance data indicates that the average attendance rate for NSW government schools decreased to 91.4%, mainly as a result of the change in reporting.
As part of the process of making NSW government schools’ attendance rates consistent with the 'National standards for student attendance data reporting', for the first time in 2018, NSW included partial absences and accounted for student mobility in the attendance rate calculations. Due to changes in the calculation methods, 2018 data is not directly comparable to previous years.
Attendance rate and student level of education
In the last eleven years, the gap between primary students’ and secondary students’ attendance rates averaged 4.6 percentage points. In 2018, attendance rates for primary students fell to 93.3%. In 2018 primary students’ attendance rate was 0.8 percentage points lower than in 2008. In 2018, attendance rates for secondary students fell to 88.2%. In 2018 secondary students’ attendance rate was 1.7 percentage points below the level recorded in 2008.
Attendance rate and remoteness
In 2018 the attendance rate at schools in major cities was 92.1%, 0.6 percentage points lower than in 2017. The average attendance rate at regional schools dropped by 1.2 percentage points to 89.4% in 2018. This resulted in a widening of the gap in attendance rates between schools in major cities and in regional areas to 2.7 percentage points compared with 2.1 percentage points in 2017. Attendance at schools in remote / very remote NSW decreased by 1.7 percentage points, from 85.6% in 2017 to 83.9% in 2018. Between 2017 and 2018, the gap in attendance rates between remote / very remote and major cities schools increased from 7.1 percentage points to 8.2 percentage points.
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students’ attendance rates
The average attendance rate for Aboriginal students was 84.4% in 2018, 1.8 percentage points lower than in 2017, while the attendance rate for non-Aboriginal students decreased by 0.7 percentage points in the last year (from 92.6% to 91.9%). As a result the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students’ attendance rates widened between 2017 and 2018, from 6.4 percentage points to 7.5 percentage points.
The gap between Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal students’ attendance rates in primary years was 4.6 percentage points in 2018, up from a gap of 4.1 percentage points in 2016 and 2017. In the secondary years, the gap was twice as large, and it increased from 10.1 percentage points in 2017 to 11.9 percentage points in 2018.Aboriginal students’ attendance rates by student level of education.
Aboriginal students’ attendance rates by student level of education
Aboriginal primary students’ attendance rate decreased by 1.1 percentage points from 90.1% in 2017 to 89% in 2018. This followed five consecutive years of attendance rates above 90%. In 2018, the attendance rate for Aboriginal secondary students decreased by 2.8 percentage points to 77.3%, 11.7 percentage points lower than primary Aboriginal students. This is the largest gap recorded in the last decade between primary and secondary Aboriginal students’ attendance rates.
Aboriginal students’ attendance rates by remoteness
Consistent with the attendance rates for all students in NSW government schools, the highest Aboriginal students’ attendance rates were recorded at schools in major cities, followed by regional and then remote / very remote schools. Between 2015 and 2017, the average attendance rate for Aboriginal students in schools in major cities remained constant at 87.1%, before falling to 85.6% in 2018. In 2018 more than 53% of all Aboriginal students in NSW government schools were enrolled at regional schools. At remote/very remote schools the Aboriginal students’ attendance rate was 78.1% in 2018, a 3 percentage point decrease from 2017. As a result of implementing national standards, Aboriginal students’ attendance in all areas was at the lowest rate since 2008.
School level attendance rate and proportion of students attending 90% or more of the time
For the first time in 2018 NSW government schools were able to report a new attendance national measure introduced in 2015, the “proportion of students attending 90% or more of the time”. Overall, as expected, the higher the proportion of students attending at least 90% of the time, the higher the school’s attendance rate. The majority of infants and primary schools had an attendance rate of over 90% in Semester 1, 2018. Of this group of schools, the majority had over 70% of their students attending 90% or more of the time. Only 2.4% of infants and primary schools had less than half of their students attending at least 90% of the time. Most secondary schools had attendance rates between 80 and 90%, and around half of these schools had between 50 and 70% of their students meeting the 90% threshold. Around 22% of secondary schools had less than half of their students attending 90% or more of the time in Semester 1 2018. Most Central / Community schools had attendance rates between 80 to 90%. In Semester 1, 2018, around 78% of Central / Community schools had more than half of their students attending 90% or more of the time.
Distribution of students' attendance
Although the publicly reported attendance level is 90% or more, many students have close to perfect attendance. The table shows that 28.8% of all students attended 98% or more of the time and 73.4% of all students attended at least 90% of the time. By comparison 14.8 percent of Aboriginal students attended 98% of the time and 52.2% attended at least 90% of the time. These proportions changed for each level of education, with the percentage of students attending 90% of the time higher for primary students compared to secondary students.
Distribution of students' attendance by scholastic year
Except for Year 10, the highest student attendance in each scholastic year was between 90% and 98%. This attendance level was achieved by over 45% of primary students but only by 40 to 42% of secondary students. From Year 8 the proportion of students attending less than 90% overtakes the proportion of students with attendance of 98% or more. Over 40% of Year 10 students attended school less than 90% of the time and only one in five Year 10 students attended at least 98%. The average attendance rate for Year 10 students was 86.1%, lower than any other year group. For Aboriginal students, the proportion of students attending 90% or less overtakes those attending between 90% and 98% of the time from Year 6. This proportion peaks in Year 10, with over two thirds of Aboriginal students attending less than 90% of the time.
Distribution of students' attendance by remoteness
More than half of students attended school at least 90% of the time, regardless of the school location. However, more students in remote / very remote areas have lower attendance than students in major cities. Nearly half of students in remote/very remote areas attended school less than 90% of the time, with 6.6% attending less than half of the time, the highest proportion compared to other areas. By comparison, around three quarters of students in major cities had an attendance of 90% or more, with one in three attending school almost every day, the highest proportion compared to other areas. The distribution of students’ attendance in inner regional and outer regional schools were similar, with around two thirds of students attending school 90% or more of the time.
Proportion of students attending 90% or more by remoteness and Aboriginality
Attendance declined with increasing remoteness for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. The gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students attending school 90% or more of the time was highest in remote/very remote NSW, with a difference of 23.3 percentage points, followed by major cities at 22.1 percentage points. The gap was lowest in inner regional NSW schools at 18.4 percentage points.
Impact of National standards on NSW government schools’ attendance rates
In 2012 Education ministers from all jurisdictions signed the 'National standards for student attendance data reporting'. This was to allow consistent and comparable reporting of attendance rates for students from Year 1 to Year 10 across Australia. There were three main changes required for NSW to become compliant with the national standards; record extended family holidays as absences rather than exemption from attendance – implemented in January 2015; include partial absences over two hours in the calculation; and improve calculation of enrolled days to take account of student movements between schools.
At the end of 2017, a centralised student administration system was fully rolled out to all NSW government schools, giving the department access to student-level attendance data for all schools. 2018 is the first year when attendance data complies with the national standards.
Implications for educators
Recording and monitoring student attendance allows educators to identify students who have low attendance, and are at risk of falling behind. Tracking student attendance is also a legislative requirement and part of every school’s duty of care. Attendance data is important because it provides a measure of students’ engagement – which is critical for evaluating school and student performance.