Cheap hols blamed for poor attendance
Education Department director-general Sharyn O'Neill. Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian.

Parents were pulling children out of school to go on cheap overseas holidays to Bali in a trend partly attributed to fly-in, fly-out work schedules, Education Department director-general Sharyn O'Neill told a parliamentary committee today.

Giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating student attendance in public schools, Ms O'Neill said she had not seen "hard evidence" but believed it was increasing.

She said anecdotally schools were reporting students taking "one week here, two weeks there" during school terms to spend time with their family on holidays.

She said lower airfares to overseas destinations, particularly to "Indonesia and other places", and low-season fares falling during school terms was partly to blame.

Ms O'Neill said fly-in, fly-out schedules, and how this related to families doing things together, was as "emerging issue".

"We are seeing students going on holidays," she said.

She said it was not allowed and rejected suggestions by Liberal MP Tony Krsticevic that the department would accommodate school term dates around this type of lifestyle change.

Admitting yesterday that school attendance was “a hard nut to crack”, she said 7125 children across WA were considered to be at “severe risk” because they attended school less than 60 per cent of the time.

The department sets a target of 90 per cent or greater regular attendance.

Of WA's 262,000 public students, 71.12 per cent met this target, with 17.51 per cent at an indicated risk, 7.1 per cent at moderate risk and 3.4 per cent at severe risk.

During the hearing, the committee tabled a "worst schools" list for attendance.

Coodanup Community College, Balga Senior High School, Girrawheen Senior High School and Yule Brooke College topped the list in the metropolitan area for the number of unauthorised half-day absences.

In the country, the worst attendance was in Roebourne District High School, Meekatharra District High School, Fitzroy Valley District High School and Carnarvon Senior High School.

Ms O'Neill said in extreme cases, the department sent in "expert teams" to addresses truancy problems.

She said teachers may also personally visit homes to track down students with chronic absenteeism, but later agreed with committee chairman, Labor's John Kobelke, that teachers were "incredibly busy" and did not have time to chase down students "every minute of the day".

Asked by Labor MP Rita Saffioti whether school principals were required to account for $50 million in extra funding used to tackle issues including truancy, Ms O'Neill conceded there was no such requirement.

But she stressed the department had not received any complaints that the funds were not being spent appropriately.

During the hearing she detailed initiatives such as breakfast programs and individual partnerships with non-profit groups and WA Police to boost attendance figures.

The Public Accounts Committee was set up to track progress from recommendations in a 2009 Auditor-General's report, which found almost 50,000 WA students were missing so much school they were at risk of falling behind.

The West Australian

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