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School operations

Attendance

7  Attendance improvement strategies

Through regular monitoring of attendance and absence patterns, and reviewing the excuses given for absences, schools may identify that a student is at risk of poor attendance or becoming disengaged.

Schools should consider follow up and improvement strategies when a student has been absent more than five days in a term for any reason (indicating attendance falling below 90%), even for parent approved health-related absences. They should also follow up and implement improvement strategies where:

  • the absence is having a significant impact on a student's educational attainment, achievement and development
  • a student has been truanting (absent without parental consent)
  • a parent reports that a student refuses to attend school
  • there has been no explanation for the student's absence
  • a parent repeatedly fails to provide a reasonable excuse for their child's absence.

This follow up is recommended as an early intervention approach that may possibly identify an underlying issue affecting attendance which may differ from the explanation originally reported by the parent, or identify support the school can offer to assist the student's ability to attend school.

The impact of absences on a student's educational attainment, achievement and development will depend on the:

  • number of days of absence
  • number of consecutive days
  • reason for the absence
  • time of year
  • age of the student
  • type of learning that will occur outside school.

All these factors need to be considered in choosing appropriate follow up or intervention strategies. When following up absences, schools should:

  • further investigate the reasons for the student's absence (the actual reason may differ to the explanation initially provided)
  • organise a meeting with the parent and a relevant teacher or other staff member at the earliest opportunity to identify the issues related to the non-attendance and to plan for improvement
  • ensure they notify a parent in writing each time the school considers they have not provided a reasonable excuse for the absence.

Addressing individual student needs

Identifying risks of student disengagement from education needs to happen early so that actions can be taken to reduce or avoid these risks. In order to effectively address these risks, schools should work in partnership with the significant adults in the students' lives, including families, as well as with community agencies and services.

When identifying risks, schools can use the Child Information Sharing Scheme and Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme to request and share information with authorised organisations to promote the wellbeing or safety of children or to assess or manage family violence risk. Authorised organisations include Victorian government and non-government schools, Child FIRST, Child Protection, Victoria Police, Youth Justice, community health and family violence services. For a list of organisations and services authorised under the schemes, refer to: Information Sharing Entity List. For policy and guidance on using the schemes refer to: Child and Family Violence Information Sharing Schemes

Attendance improvement strategies and interventions must be consistent with other supports and frameworks in place for the student and family (e.g. students in out-of-home care, experiencing homelessness, Aboriginal families, international students, students with disabilities, students with cultural and linguistically diverse backgrounds and newly arrived communities).

Schools should be careful if using more than one improvement strategy at a time. For example, if an Attendance Improvement Plan has been developed, do not initiate further act ions until the act ions and timelines outlined in the plan have been completed and evaluated and attendance patterns remain of concern.

Referrals to community services or agencies may be appropriate if an immediate need is identified, and these can occur in conjunction with attendance improvement strategies if necessary.

Appropriate attendance improvement strategies for an individual student will vary according to their circumstances, age and education level and aspirations.

The main focus of attendance improvement strategies at a primary and lower secondary school level should be to support improved attendance or a return to a mainstream school setting.

At middle secondary level, the main focus of attendance improvement strategies should be on re-engaging children and young people at risk of leaving the education system, creating pathways back into school, or into accredited training or employment if that better suits their aspirations.

At senior secondary level, attendance improvement strategies should focus on supporting children and young people to complete their senior secondary certificate or accredited VET qualification at Certificate II or above, with the view of linking them into their preferred pathway of further education, training or employment.

Engaging with the family

Managing issues of non-attendance can be difficult, particularly in circumstances where there are apparent stress factors within families. Working with a family in a way that can prevent attendance issues is critical. Successful school-family relationships will be underpinned by open and effective communication. Keys to successful partnerships with parents and families include:

  • conducting effective school-to-home and home-to-school communications
  • providing volunteer opportunities to enable parents and student to contribute
  • involving families with homework and other curriculum-related activities
  • involving families as participants in school decision-making
  • coordinating resources and services from the community for families, students and the school
  • providing opportunities to enhance parenting knowledge and skills.

In analysing patterns of non-attendance and following up with parents, schools should consider cultural factors and details of student and family circumstances.

Contact should be made with the view to developing and implementing strategies that minimise absences and build positive family-school relationships.

Meetings with parents

Attendance meetings with parents and students should be convened following initial contact with the parents when a student's attendance is of concern to the school. The purpose of the meeting is to develop attendance improvement strategies to support the student and to examine why non-attendance continues to be a problem.

At the first meeting, the principal or nominee should focus on:

  • establishing a shared understanding of accountability and strategies for improving attendance
  • ensuring parents are aware of the absences and fully appreciate the educational implications for the student
  • identifying the reasons for the absences
  • exploring any factors preventing attendance or participation
  • requesting parents engage with alternative strategies to improve attendance
  • identifying appropriate attendance improvement strategies
  • documenting which improvement strategy has been selected, with clear discussion about the ways in which it will be monitored and when it will be reviewed
  • explaining the possible consequences of repeated non-attendance, including referral to a School Attendance Officer.

Meetings with parents of students with attendance issues should feel supportive rather than disciplinary, with a focus on positive and proactive solutions.

Principals need to ensure that appropriate supports are provided at the meetings (for example, interpreters, advocates) in order to facilitate the involvement of parents.

Consideration should be given to cultural and language differences, and translated material or an interpreter should be provided if required. The family should be given the opportunity to discuss cultural practices, or to invite a cultural leader to discuss cultural practices on their behalf if relevant to the meeting. Meeting times should also be negotiated in order to ensure a mutually agreeable time is decided on with necessary support provided.

Schools may need to enact a combination of strategies in responding to the needs and circumstances of individual students. More targeted approaches may be needed for individual students facing multiple issues.

Attendance student support group

When student attendance issues are identified and it becomes apparent that a student may require ongoing intensive support in order to remain engaged in school, an Attendance Student Support Group should be convened by the principal (or nominee). The Attendance Student Support Group should be attended by:

  • the parent of the student
  • a parent's advocate (if required)
  • a teacher (primary) or teacher(s) nominated as having responsibility for the student (secondary )
  • the principal or nominee (to act as chairperson)
  • the student (where appropriate)
  • relevant school based welfare staff (where appropriate).

The Attendance Student Support Group may invite input from any other person with knowledge of the student or with information relevant to the educational or social needs of the student. Appropriate professionals from other agencies (such as youth workers or counsellors) may also attend with permission of the parent.

All students in receipt of Program for Students with a Disability funding and students living in out-of-home care should already have a Student Support Group established. The existing Student Support Group should be used for attendance issues.

The Attendance Student Support Group meetings should focus on:

  • ensuring the parent is aware of the absences and understands the educational implications for the student
  • identifying the reasons for the student absences
  • working collaboratively to develop a Student Attendance Improvement Plan, and/or an Individual Education Plan.

For more information, refer to Student Support Groups.

Attendance improvement plans and return to school plans

To assist in the re-engagement of students with attendance issues, an Attendance Improvement Plan can be introduced.

To assist in the reintegration of a student after a prolonged absence, a Return to School Plan can be implemented. This may also be used following other strategies if these strategies have not had the desired outcome. For more information, see: Return to School Plan in the Resources tab. 

Attendance Improvements Plans and Return to School Plans may be appropriate for students who are:

  • involved in the youth justice system
  • experiencing, or who have experienced a period of homelessness
  • experiencing mental or physical illnesses (Return to School Plans are vital for this cohort if they have experienced prolonged absence from school).

Both these plans should be developed with the student and the parent and any support workers, and include information such as:

  • the work the student has missed and needs to complete
  • the student's class timetable, including bell times
  • school term dates, student free days and non-school periods
  • goals to improve the student's attendance, including a target for attendance
  • nominated staff that can support the student if they need assistance, and their locations
  • the process to be followed if the student is absent
  • contact details for the student's parent.

If it has been difficult to engage with the parent of a student, a School Attendance Improvement Plan or a Return to School Plan can be developed directly with the student. Any support services the student may be accessing or may have been referred to (such as a youth worker or Koorrie Engagement Support Officer) should be consulted and the plan should outline key responsibilities and parties to be involved.

Individual education plan

An Individual Education Plan articulates a student's educational, social and behavioural needs and how the school and other support services will address these. The IEP should:

  • articulate the student's learning style, interests, goals and support needs
  • be based on an assessment of the student's specific learning needs and capabilities
  • establish short-term goals that will lead sequentially to the achievement of long-term goals
  • consider key long-term goals that reflect learning outcomes in social, academic and life skills development
  • reflect high expectations of the students capacity for educational achievement
  • outline a meaningful educational program, linked to learning outcomes under an appropriate curriculum or qualification framework (VELS, VCE, VCAL or VET)
  • be developed in consultation with the student, the school and members of the Student Support Group
  • ensure that the goals are measurable, achievable, supported, and time-limited
  • clearly articulate individual and shared responsibilities, for the student and members of the Student Support Group
  • contain a record of important decisions, actions, student behaviour and progress.

Individual Education Plans may be suitable as an intervention to improve attendance if issues are identified with a student's education level, such as their literacy or numeracy levels, or if poor engagement in learning is identified as contributing to the student's attendance pattern.

Under the Department's Marrung Aboriginal Education Plan it is expected that all government schools develop an Individual Education Plan for each Koorie student in a partnership between teachers, the student, the parent and the Koorie Engagement Support Officer. In this case each plan will cover key transition points from pre­ school to school, primary to secondary and compulsory to post-compulsory education. For more information, refer to: Marrung

The Partnering Agreement commits to an Educational Needs Assessment for all students in out-of-home care. Refer to Supporting Students in Out-of-Home Care Resources​.

Student Absence Learning Plan

Student Absence Learning Plans should be implemented to support the education of students who are absent from school for an extended period. They should be developed collaboratively by teachers, students and their parents.

Student Absence Learning Plan must be developed for students:

  • who are planning extended absences from school, for example for a family holiday
  • suspended for more than three days (refer to Behaviour — Students)
  • subject to an expulsion appeal process (refer to Behaviour — Students).

It may also be useful to develop a Return to School Plan for students. Refer to the Resources tab for further information about developing a Return to School Plan.

Referral to school or community-based wellbeing professional

When exploring attendance concerns, schools may identify behavioural, health or social issues such as anxiety, depression or bullying for an individual student. Schools should access specialist support available in the school or provided by the school sector. For government schools this would include Student Support Services, Koorie Engagement Support Officers and Primary Welfare Officers and, for all schools, external community service organisations where appropriate.

Responding to the wellbeing needs of individual students is not the responsibility of schools alone. Other government and community-based agencies can provide specialist support to children and families around a range of individual and family needs. Schools may work directly with local agencies to establish arrangements for referral and collaboration.

Engaging services or making referrals to services could be employed as a strategy to improve attendance, and to address emotional and social needs in order to improve attendance, especially in circumstances where students are experiencing homelessness, are involved in the youth justice system, are experiencing mental or physical health issues, or are from newly arrived or refugee backgrounds.

New Information Sharing Schemes enable authorised organisations to share information with each other to promote the wellbeing or safety of children or to assess or manage family violence risk. Organisations that are authorised to share information under these schemes include Victorian government and non-government schools, DET Health Wellbeing and Inclusion Workforces, Child FIRST, Child Protection, Youth Justice and a range of other prescribed workforces. More information and support about using the new Information Sharing Schemes is available at: Child and Family Violence Information Sharing Schemes.

Note:

For government schools, staff in the Department's regional offices can:

  • suggest further attendance improvement strategies
  • suggest community agencies that may be available to assist the child and family
  • assist with placement in another school or a re-engagement program external to the school
  • discuss protective concerns for a child and the suitability of making referral to Child FIRST or Child Protection
  • provide support to schools to broker solutions for complex individual attendance cases.

For Catholic schools, relevant Diocesan Catholic Education Office Wellbeing personnel are available to assist. Principals in Catholic schools are required to consult with their relevant Wellbeing personnel before a referral to a Department School Attendance Officer is made.

Re-engagement programs

Re-engagement programs operate outside mainstream school settings and provide tailored education and support for children and young people who are disengaged, or have been identified as at risk of disengaging, from mainstream school.

They provide an opportunity for disengaged or at-risk children and young people to achieve positive education and wellbeing outcomes through engagement in a tailored and supportive learning environment.

Re-engagement programs:

  • allow students to remain enrolled in their government school while attending the program
  • may cater to students who are enrolled at a number of different schools
  • may be delivered by a government school or by a registered education provider contracted by a school (a non-government school or a registered training organisation)
  • may support re-engagement back into mainstream school or provide a longer-term alternative learning pathway, depending on the age and stage of a child or young person's learning.

Re-engagement programs are only an appropriate option when:

  • school-based strategies to improve a student's engagement in a mainstream school setting have not been successful
  • a child or young person is not enrolled in a school and faces significant barriers to returning to a mainstream school environment.

When determining if a re-engagement program is a suitable option for a child or young person, the primary consideration must be the educational and wellbeing needs of that individual.

For guidance on establishing, delivering and referring to re-engagement programs, refer to the Department's policy on Re-engagement Programs.

Reporting concerns — Referral to child first or report to Child Protection

Prolonged absence from school, patterns of absence from school, or the level of parental support for a child's attendance at school may raise concerns about cumulative harm to a child, or concerns that the child and their family need the assistance of family services. In addressing and following up school attendance issues, schools may need to consider whether they should report a concern to Child Protection or make a referral to the Child FIRST intake service for referral to family services. For more information, refer to: PROTECT: Responding to other concerns about the wellbeing of a child

Families requiring the support of family services generally have complex needs, which can adversely impact on a child's development and educational attainment if appropriate supports and interventions are not provided in a timely manner. Significant concerns about the child's wellbeing and development are commonly highlighted by how often issues such as non-attendance are occurring, how serious the issues are, and most importantly how the issues are affecting the child's learning and development.

In general, it is advised that schools should attempt one or more attendance improvement strategies before considering a referral to Child FIRST. Schools can report concerns to the child and family services system concurrently with a referral to a School Attendance Officer. Early identification and response to patterns of cumulative harm to children and young people, and assisting families to receive appropriate supports and services, is a critical part of the child and family service system.

Cumulative harm refers to the effects of patterns of circumstances and events in a child's life, which diminish a child's sense of safety, stability and wellbeing. These circumstances and events could include the history and pattern of the child's attendance at school, periods of non-attendance and the level of parental support for the child's attendance at school.

If, through enquiries and engagement with the families to follow up attendance issues, a principal or other mandated staff member has formed a belief that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm, or is in need of immediate protection, they must make a report to Child Protection. For more information, refer to Protecting Children — Reporting and Other Legal Obligations.

A referral to Child FIRST should be considered if, after consideration of the available information the school is, on balance, more inclined to form a view that the concerns currently have a low to moderate impact on the child, and where the immediate safety of the child is not compromised. In these situations a referral to Child FIRST is the best way of connecting vulnerable children and their families to the services they need to protect and promote healthy development.

A referral to Child FIRST may be suitable in situations where families are exhibiting or report the following factors that may impact on the child's attendance at school:

  • significant parenting problems
  • family conflict, including family breakdown
  • families under pressure due to a family member's physical or mental illness, substance abuse, disability or bereavement
  • young, isolated and/ or unsupported families
  • significant social or economic disadvantage that may adversely impact on a child's care or development.

On receiving a referral from a school, the Child FIRST team will conduct further assessment of the family and may consult an experienced community-based child protection worker who is based in each Child FIRST team. This assessment may lead to the involvement of a local family services organisation. Child FIRST will inform schools of the outcome of their referral.

Where a Child FIRST team or a registered Family Services organisation forms the view that a child or young person is in need of protection they must report the matter to Child Protection.

In forming the view that a child is in need of protection, schools should consider the specific things that have happened to the child that have caused concerns and the impact of those factors on the child's safety, stability, health, wellbeing and development. Some questions to consider are:

  • How vulnerable is the child?
  • Is there a history or pattern of significant concerns with this child or other children in the family?
  • Are the parents aware of the concerns, capable and willing to take action to ensure the child's safety and stability, and promote their health, wellbeing, and development?
  • Are the parents able and willing to use support services to promote the child's safety, stability, wellbeing and development?

Referral to a school attendance officer

When a school feels that they have exhausted strategies for addressing a student's unsatisfactory attendance, further action to restore attendance is appropriate. This may mean pursuing an intensive intervention approach, reporting a concern through the child and family services system, or referring to a School Attendance Officer who may issue a School Attendance Notice.

Which avenue to pursue will depend on a variety of factors such as the underlying cause of the absences, the history of engagement with the student's parents, and any precedent set by the school.

After making a referral or report, a school must continue to record, monitor and follow up the student's attendance in line with normal procedure.

Note:

A principal does not have to make a referral for all absences that meet the criteria below but may continue to manage the absences at a school level.

Referring a student attendance matter to a School Attendance Officer may be appropriate where the principal determines that:

  • intervention strategies have been unable to secure parental engagement and improvement in school attendance (or engagement in another educational program) and
  • requiring the parent to respond to the notice will convey the seriousness of the matter and is likely to elicit an improvement in attendance.

Principals should be certain they have evidence to demonstrate the parent has not been meeting their responsibilities under the Act. This will be important in the event the School Attendance Notice leads to an Infringement Notice being sent to the parent and the parent wishes to appeal the decision or elect to have the matter heard in court.

The process for issuing the School Attendance Notice, requiring the parent to respond and the further steps if the parent does not comply with the notice is very clear and is set by the provisions in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic).

To make a referral to a School Attendance Officer the principal needs to establish that:

  • the student has been absent from school on at least five full days in the previous 12 months and the parent has not provided a reasonable excuse for these absences
  • measures to improve the student's attendance have been undertaken and been unsuccessful, or are inappropriate in the circumstances
  • a parent responsible for the absences can be identified (a single person to be the addressee of the School Attendance Notice).

These minimum requirements to be met before sending a School Attendance Notice are set out in the Act. In addition to the minimum requirements, before making a referral a principal should:

  • be satisfied that the reasons for the failure to comply with attendance requirements have been explored, including any social, cultural, linguistic, economic, geographic or learning difficulties
  • ensure that if a Student Support Group has been established for the student, or another support mechanism exists for the student, that group has been consulted about the particular attendance issue or that mechanism utilised before making a referral to a School Attendance Officer
  • consider the particular circumstances of the student and family in deciding to make a referral, including likely consequences if the parent does not respond adequately to a School Attendance Notice
  • have attempted to contact the parent in question by telephone to advise of the situation and confirm their awareness of the seriousness of the issue.

A School Attendance Notice may only be sent in relation to a student of compulsory school age. Before making a referral, principals should check that the student is of compulsory school age, particularly for students in Prep or Year 11 and 12.Where a student is under 18 but their maturity is such that they may be considered a 'mature minor', the school should focus on attendance improvement strategies that do not include referral to a School Attendance Officer for a School Attendance Notice. For more information on who may be considered a mature minor, refer to: Decision Making Responsibilities for Students.

Prior to referring the matter, government school principals may wish to consult with the Health and Wellbeing Officers in their regional office for advice about the appropriateness of making a referral to the School Attendance Officer. Seeking advice from staff in the Department's regional office does not oblige the principal to make a referral.

If the student is an international student, the principal should consult with the International Education Division to confirm the visa status for the child and act in accordance with the school attendance enforcement provisions and sanctions under the Education and Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Framework.

For more information, refer to:

Principals should be certain they have evidence to demonstrate the parent has not been meeting their responsibilities under the Act. This will be necessary in the event the School Attendance Notice leads to an Infringement Notice being sent to the parent and the parent wishes to appeal the decision or elect to have the matter heard in court.

If the principal decides to refer the matter, he or she should complete and forward the referral form Referral to School Attendance Officer in the Resources tab. If a principal of a non-government school has concerns about disclosing private information in the referral form, he or she can contact the School Attendance Officer for advice.

If a School Attendance Officer is notified that a parent appears to be failing in their duty to ensure their child attends school at all times the school is open for the child's instruction, the School Attendance Officer will follow the steps outlined in Procedure for a School Attendance Officer — School Attendance Notices in the next chapter. 

The principal must provide any information requested by the School Attendance Officer in order to issue a School Attendance Notice.

Note:

Principals in Catholic schools are required to consult with relevant Diocesan Catholic Education Office Wellbeing personnel before any referral to a Department School Attendance Officer.

Chapter 7 of the Attendance Guidelines outlining how schools can support individual students to improve their attendance

Reviewed 20 April 2021

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