Educating parents and kids about the benefits of school

Schools are tailoring strategies to improve attendance to their local circumstances with strong results. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

Three students from Smithtown Public School posing for a photograph. Three students from Smithtown Public School posing for a photograph.
Image: Smithtown Public School has a focus on improving cultural safety and cultural awareness.

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to improving attendance and even schools in the same geographic area often require different approaches to achieve the best outcomes.

The Macleay Valley school network mostly on Dunghutti land, stretching from west of Port Macquarie, Birpai country, and crossing on to Gumbaynggirr land at the hamlet of Eungai Creek, south of Macksville.

Network Director Educational Leadership Emma Jeffery said her schools had this year made great gains in attendance rates and in unexplained absences.

“We have had a big network focus on attendance and all schools are constantly reviewing school systems and ways to design personal approaches to contact families,” Ms Jeffery said.

“They are doing amazing things in this area.”

Smithtown Public School has seen an impressive increase in attendance among its 77 students over the past year.

The number of students attending school more than 90 per cent of the time increased by 27.6 per cent in the first five weeks of Term 2, 2023, when compared to the same period last year.

Principal Kristina Giorgi said the school had focused on building good relationships between staff, students and families “to be supportive of whatever our families are going through”.

“People who visit the school tell me the culture is really positive, I would like to think that helps,” she said.

Connection, community building and education about the positive benefits of good attendance has played an important role on both sides of the school fence.

Around 28 per cent of students are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and the school also focuses on improving cultural safety and cultural awareness.

“Parent education plays a big part, ensuring they know why it’s important that their children attend school,” Ms Giorgi said.

Students from Beechwood Public School pose for a photo outside. Students from Beechwood Public School pose for a photo outside.
Image: Beechwood Public School focuses on strong relationships between students and teachers.

Postive relationships

Students at Beechwood Public School, northwest of Port Macquarie, face a different set of challenges.

For some students it’s a daily round trip of 70 kilometres to the school gate. This isolation can be compounded by the weather for those living in forested mountains crisscrossed by waterways.

Principal Sam Small said the school had clear attendance procedures and regularly follows up if there are attendance concerns.

“There are daily phone calls from our office staff for unexplained absences, and a focus on positive teacher student relationships,” he said.

The school prioritises ongoing communication between teachers, parents and carers.

Students from Eungai Public School sitting on a log. Students from Eungai Public School sitting on a log.
Image: Students go bush at Eungai Public School in an initiative to encourage attendance on Fridays.

Connection and belonging

Eungai Public School is another small school going big on attendance.

In Term 1 this year, 29 of the 43 students recorded attendance above 90 per cent – more than double the number for the same period in 2022.

Principal Dylan Harry said the cold and flu season had affected attendance this term but there was evidence that families were taking attendance seriously.

“We see the notifications coming through each day, thanks to parents letting us know their child is sick,” Mr Harry said.

After noticing a drop in attendance on Fridays, the school implemented a program that encourages connection and a sense of belonging among students.

The ‘Bush Bowl Bounceback’ initiative involves cooking from the school’s bush tucker garden and giving students time in neighbouring bushland.

Kempsey East Public School incorporates a system of rewards to encourage good attendance. The strategies include silent discos and extra play time as well as data analysis and strengthened communication.

Principal Penny Chow said staff target students who are attending at least 80 per cent of the time with regular attendance phone calls to encourage strong partnerships between home and school.

“Regular phone calls ensure we are having positive conversations around attendance, while also informing how we can support families,” she said.

Students from Kempsey East Public School posing with awards. Students from Kempsey East Public School posing with awards.
Image: Kempsey East Public School rewards effort and improvement across many areas, including attendance.
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