Changing lives – one slice of pizza at a time

Greeting students and parents with a smile at the school gate has helped improve attendance at Homebush Public. Ben Worsley reports.

A woman handing out pizza slices A woman handing out pizza slices
Image: A taste for attendance: Homebush Public School principal Catherine Davis hands out pizza to inspire students to be on time.

Late in 2022, the teachers at Homebush Public School came together to ask a simple but vital question – how do we improve attendance at our school?

The school’s Assistant Principal, Wellbeing, Wendy Owen, said a quality education started with attendance.

“We brainstormed as a group on how we could improve attendance by addressing unexplained absences and late arrivals,” she said.

Fast forward a year and a half, and the results are impressive.

There has been a 15.6 per cent rise in students attending more than 90 per cent of the time and a 4.5 per cent increase in the overall attendance rate.

Unexplained absences dropped from 626 in 2022 to 115 in 2023.

In Term 4, 2023, the number of students arriving to school late fell from 519 to 109.

“Our students are hurrying in the gates of a morning and quickly going to class. The message has been well received in our school community - attendance matters at Homebush Public School,” Ms Owen said.

So, how did the school do it?

It started with the parents – the school introduced text notifications for student absences, regular notes home to explain unexplained absences, and staff at the gate in the mornings to intercept latecomers.

Teachers established a rapport with families of students with poor attendance and held meetings when necessary.

“I enjoy meeting the families at the gate each morning. The parents feel welcome, and it gives them a chance to ask questions,” Ms Owen said.

Parent Kristi Helou said the extra communication from the school had really helped.

“I absolutely love the new system. It is so much easier to respond and let the school know our reasons for absences. This is much less complicated for parents,” she said.

For the students, the school started an incentive system to reward classes with low unexplained absences and individuals showing an effort to improve.

Pizza parties are thrown for the classes leading the way.

Jackson Bailey, who teaches Stage 3, said the difference was amazing.

“My class has been so focused on improving their attendance. It might be the reward but it has made a big difference,” Mr Bailey said.

“Starting every lesson on time has been fantastic, without having to stop and re-mark the roll for latecomers.”

Kindergarten teacher Laura Briganti said the attendance campaign at Homebush Public had been a game-changer.

“Students are more engaged and ready to learn. We were able to start the day with a smile,” she said.

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