Postcards help deliver shift in attitudes

A change in approach has helped lift attendance in two key groups at West Wallsend High School. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

Image: Take note: West Wallsend High School celebrates attendance improvement with their students and families.

The principal of West Wallsend High School first began writing postcards to students who had improved attendance, to keep encouraging their efforts.

It used to take her a few minutes each fortnight, but now Krystal Bevin finds herself needing to schedule the time as more students and families respond to the school’s attendance strategies.

“Senior attendance has seen some major uplift in particular, we do have a number of things in place for them,” Mrs Bevin said.

“And our Aboriginal Education Officer has been checking in with families when students are away from school, offering support where it’s needed.

“Increasing that personal connection with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students has seen much more consistent attendance.”

There’s no one individual or reason behind the improvement as collective effort is a big part of the culture at West Wallsend High School, just outside Newcastle.

Every person has a part to play, and the strongest contributions can come from unexpected places.

The cross-school attendance taskforce has, as the name suggests, members from across the whole school – including front-of-office staff.

“It’s been a gamechanger [to include front office staff], it’s proven really important,” Mrs Bevin said.

“They are the bridge to our families who really do place great trust into that voice at the other end of the phone.

“They’ve also brought a lot into our strategic thinking.”

The school has increased its community engagement, improving online platforms, which in turn has seen an increase in parent uptake and utilisation.

On the land of the Awabakal people, Westy, as it’s known locally, maintains a strong presence on Facebook, to ensure parents remain informed and know what is expected of students at the school.

“There’s no early leaver system, the expectation is they are at school the whole day,” the principal said.

“If a senior has a gap in their timetable, they go to our staffed senior hub, we have places here for them to go.”

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