Spotlight on student wellbeing lifts attendance

Student wellbeing is intrinsically linked to attendance at Como Public School. Linda Doherty reports.

Students posing for a photo. Students posing for a photo.
Image: Kindergarten students all smiles at Como Public School.

Beyond the statistics of school attendance there are always children with a back story who require individualised attention.

Principal Nicole Gilmore has focused on student wellbeing since starting at Como Public School in 2018 and has seen measures of student advocacy and a sense of belonging rise significantly.

The overall attendance rate has also risen from 87.8 per cent in 2022 to the current rate of 89.7 per cent.

The school of 112 students on Dharawal Country embraces its small size when it comes to attendance, staying in close contact with families and constantly providing information about why coming to school matters to academic and wellbeing outcomes.

“As a small school we know our families well, so it’s easy to have those conversations,” Mrs Gilmore said.

“We try to be really aware and supportive of what’s going on in the background in a child’s life outside of school.”

Some students may resist coming to school due to anxiety or family hardship.

Como Public School staff meet weekly to talk about child wellbeing and put in place special programs for some children.

Sometimes it’s making a reluctant attendee a morning office monitor with responsibility for special jobs, including answering the phone.

“The parent walks their child into the office and leaves them with office staff who have specific tasks for them to do. This has helped improve their desire to be at school,” Mrs Gilmore said.

For other students it might mean providing a school uniform and breakfast and lunch to remove any social stigma.

Each morning parents receive a text message if their child is not at school. Unexplained absences are followed up weekly by office staff and Mrs Gilmore.

“Gone are the days when you wait a week and ask for a note,” she said.

Mrs Gilmore said staff also educated parents on the importance of making dental and doctor’s appointments outside school hours.

Taking them out of school for these types of appointments resulted in a partial absence notification.

“We gently suggest that it’s better to make these appointments after school hours or in the holidays,” she said.

Como Public School is proud of its student wellbeing focus.

In 2022 it met 92 per cent of wellbeing targets as measured by the Tell Them From Me student surveys, when the Department of Education upper target was 66 per cent.

The advocacy at school measure has risen from 56 per cent in 2018 to 97 per cent last year. Students’ sense of belonging is now around 83 per cent against a state target of 66 per cent and up from 55 per cent five years ago.

“Our explicit and constant focus on student wellbeing in the school can be attributed to attendance rates improving each year,” Mrs Gilmore said.

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