Small Lake Macquarie school big on attendance

Wiripaang Public School lifted its average attendance to above 90 per cent in just 18 months, thanks to a school and community focus. Sven Wright reports.

Image: Sweet success: There’s always something interesting to keep the students coming in to Wiripaang Public School, just like bees to a hive.

The students, staff and school community of Wiripaang Public School in Gateshead, south of Newcastle, have turned a low attendance rate into one of the best in the region with a suite of sharply focused initiatives.

Principal Julie Low said after the pandemic interruptions of 2020 school staff brainstormed how to ensure the critical importance of every day attendance could be better conveyed to students and families and then implemented.

“We came up with the slogan ‘Be at School Everyday’ – and BaSE is the perfect name for the foundation of an initiative,” Mrs Low said.

Previously, the school of 186 students averaged 25 students absent a day in 18 months, the school lifted its average attendance from below 85 per cent to above 90 per cent.

“We’re a school with a high Family Occupation and Education Index (FOEI), so it’s doubly important that our messages to the students and school community get across, and we believe we’re achieving that,” Ms Low said.

“We’ve done it by close attention to and follow-up of every student’s attendance pattern, using all our staff – teachers, our Aboriginal education officer, home school liaison officers, office staff and school executive, because everyone has a role to play in attendance.

“It’s involved a new level of contact with our families and has brought a change in the school community culture, which is the only way to make sure high attendance becomes the norm for students throughout their school careers – with all the benefits.

“At Wiri we ensure everyone achieves personal excellence.”

The measures in the program include:

  • Immediate contact with families if there is non-attendance;
  • Regularly rewarding high attendance at the individual and class level;
  • Routine contact with families offering support;
  • Regular attendance meetings with families;
  • Regular attendance messages for students during every school week; and
  • Immediate support for any families needing assistance in understanding the school’s procedures.

“Wiripaang is the local Aboriginal word for the sea eagles we have in our area, and reflects our values of respectful, responsible learners,” Mrs Low said.

“I believe our staff and community have more than lived up to that vision of being the best in tackling a difficult but fundamental challenge, and we’re delighted to have shared our experience with schools in the region, and our resources across NSW.”

  • Every day matters
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