Wagging claim ?a beat-up

By JENI FAULKNER

THE Coffs Coast is NOT the State's 'wagging' capital and local school principals are outraged at the release of 'truancy' figures suggesting local kids go AWOL at an alarming rate.

The principals claim the 'truancy' statistics are incorrect, damning and completely sensationalised.

Toormina and Woolgoolga high schools were recently listed within the top 14 schools across the State for having the highest unaccounted absentees.

The report, released by the State Opposition and featured in The Daily Telegraph, listed Toormina fifth in the absentee stakes with 26,364 days lost in the past year.

Woolgoolga High School was ranked 14th with 24,566 absentee days.

Woolgoolga High School principal, John Dard, said the publication of the figures was nothing but sensationalism at its worst.

"This is complete misinterpretation of the truth because showing these overall attendance numbers like this puts schools in a bad light," Mr Dard said.

He said the report covered all days on which students were absent and did not accurately explain the reasons why some students were not at school, with many not playing truant at all.

"For the sake of short-term sensationalism there has been a disservice to our schools," he said.

"With this report it wasn't taken into consideration the number of absences which were condoned. Many students had a written excuse or their parents had phoned the school to tell of the absence."

He said Woolgoolga High School takes its school attendance seriously and works hard to ensure students had the best attendance possible.

"Every school has known truants and this is why we have lesson checks and strict guidelines," he said.

"A small number find it hard to regularly attend school and this is when home visits are used."

The principal of Toormina High School, Lis Donnan, issued a media release yesterday explaining her disgust at the report.

She said almost all absences at the school had been authorised by parents.

"With any absence without a note, the school sends an SMS message to parents the following day to inform n To Page 3

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them," Ms Donnan said.

"The head teacher administration contacts parents about any unauthorised absence and we have found this SMS program is returning excellent parent response ? this is the first year we have used it."

Ms Donnan also said that some students had remained on rolls even though they may have spent an entire year in hospital.

"The school runs so many programs that students could also be legitimately out of school for a number of reason,s like work experience, work placement and independent study," she said.

Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said the Opposition had made the ultimate gaffe last month.

"They have confused 'explained absences', such as doctors' appointments and approved outreach programs, with truancy," Ms Tebbutt said.

"The true facts are that the NSW Government's strong and detailed plans are working to stop truancy. Less than one per cent of students truant each day."

The Minister said the State Government had strong and detailed plans to counter truancy.

Their anti-truancy measures have been toughened up since these figures from 2003.

Last year, the Government introduced the leave pass system, where any student found out of school without a leave pass was directed to go to school. Their names were sent to the school for disciplinary action.

"Schools with higher than average truancy rates must have an anti-truancy plan. Many schools phone parents as soon as an unexplained absence is noticed," Ms Tebbutt said.

More than 90 DET Home School Liaison officers work with students and families to improve attendance rates.



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