• Secretary's update

Mind the learning gap

24 February 2020

Regular school attendance means more opportunities to develop learning and positive relationships with teachers and friends.

Four high school students sitting together around a table with a laptop and workbooks.
Image: Students who attend school regularly have greater opportunities to develop social-emotional skills and positive relationships.

In education we share the aspirations parents have for their children to achieve their potential and become lifelong learners.

We want our students to develop positive relationships with their peers and feel a deep sense of belonging to their school community. We want students to be confident communicators, imaginative thinkers and informed citizens.

It may sound simple but to be part of that community - for students to feel like they belong and to be part of their learning journey - the first thing we need to do is make sure our young people are attending school.

Students who attend school regularly have greater opportunities to develop social-emotional skills and positive relationships. Friendships, meaningful connections with teachers and ongoing engagement in school activities help foster a sense of belonging that attracts continued attendance. In other words, attending today makes it easier for a student to attend tomorrow, next month and next year.

Regular attendance promotes positive cycles of engagement that reinforce and accelerate learning and continuity of learning, friendships, wellbeing and belonging.

Even relatively few absences on a regular basis add up over time. A student who is absent from school one day a fortnight - or four weeks per year - misses out on more than one year of education over the course of their schooling.

In 2018 an average of 91.4% of students attended our public schools on any given school day. I want to see that figure increase and I ask all parents to be part of achieving that ambition with us.

Nearly 30% of students have close to perfect attendance, going to school more than 98% of the time. In primary schools, nearly four out of every five students attend more than 90% of the time - on average they are absent less than one day per fortnight.

High school attendance tends to be lower - closer to three out of every five students attends more than 90% of the time.

Absences from school disrupt a student's learning, friendships, wellbeing and belonging, which can begin a downward cycle towards compounding disengagement. Gaps in knowledge and skills can be difficult to catch up. These gaps can easily grow and students who miss out on a preceding building block of knowledge often find it difficult to keep up later.

Similarly, absences disrupt the social connections that are so crucial for education, from the classroom to the playground, the music room to the sporting field. When students miss out on sharing experiences of school activities, their connections to the school community can fray.

When school staff and students, families and the community work together we can cultivate a positive learning environment with high expectations for all our students to achieve their potential.

Mark Scott

About the Secretary

Mark Scott is Secretary of the Department of Education. He has worked as a teacher, in public administration and as a journalist and media executive. He is committed to public education and learning environments where every child can flourish.

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