The number of absent pupils in South Wales schools has reached “disturbing” levels according to teaching professionals, with one city school seeing children average more than five weeks of missed class in a year.
Nine schools in South Wales found themselves in the nation’s list of the top 15 highest yearly absence rates, with five Cardiff-based schools and four from Rhondda Cynon Taf all in the rankings.
In September, as previously reported by WalesOnline, the Welsh Government will begin tackling the level of pupil absence rates by issuing parents with fixed penalty fines of up to £120. And it says significant improvements have been made in tackling the problem.
Enter your postcode into our interactive map to find truancy rates at your child’s school
Referring to the latest initiative, Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said the way to stop children skipping class was not as simple as handing out monetary fines.
“I think that’s going to have a very small effect. On the hardcore schools with big socioeconomic problems, those parents need help not more castigation,” he said.
“Giving kids a reason to be in school and making it attractive should be the focus of these schools.”
The absentee list uses statistics from My Local School to show schools with the highest number of average days missed per pupil in 2011/12.
Sitting at number three in the list is Llanrumney High School, a troubled secondary school that will shut for good in August.
A damning inspection report led to education minister Leighton Andrews authorising the closure, with pupils at the school moving to the nearby Rumney High in September.
But those pupils moving from Llanrumney High School will go from third to the sixth in the country’s highest absentee rankings, with Rumney High averaging 25 missed days per pupil – just one less than its troubled neighbour.
And these are not the only Cardiff-based schools struggling with attendance.
Willows High, Michaelston Community College and Glyn Derw High were also in the list and showing absence rates of at least 22 days.
Calling the statistics “disturbing”, Dr Dixon said of the latest figures: “This is disturbing. If youngsters aren’t in school they can’t be learning.
He added local authorities needed to learn from the practices of councils like Neath Port Talbot, Flintshire and Wrexham, which all find themselves facing similar challenges but still attract children to schooling, “rather than simply disciplining them” when they miss it.
He said: “Those are areas which are of a similar socioeconomic background. They are deprived but they’ve obviously worked on this. Again, not to beat on Cardiff City Council, but they’ve got to learn from others.”
Rhondda Cynon Taf also fared poorly when it came to absenteeism, with Ferndale Community School, Hawthorn High School, Aberdare High School and Porth County Community School all in the top 15.
Ferndale Community School Rhondda Cynon Taf is also fourth in the list of the top 10 schools where attendance has got worse over the last five years.
With non-attendance slipping from 8.5% to 12%, Ferndale Community School saw a 3.5 percentage point change in attendance.
Mal Davies, divisional secretary for NUT Cardiff, said this showed the current methods in place are not working.
The former teacher said solving truancy was one of the greatest challenges in Welsh education, with the problem ingrained in particular areas and traceable through generations of families.
“When mum and dad have bee on to further and higher education, you can almost guarantee that they will push their own youngsters to pursue school,” he said.
“It’s the families that haven’t where you find the problem.”
Mr Davies said the absenteeism cycle needed to be broken but echoed Dr Dixon’s views that financial penalties were not the answer.
He said: “I think it’s a bit of a headline grabber. If it’s that simple, getting kids back in school, then I think someone would’ve thought of it before now.”
Julia McGill, Cardiff cabinet member for education, said the figures were disappointing but the council takes absenteeism “very seriously”.
Only last week, it was reported how parents were brought before magistrates to face fines for their children’s non-attendance.
Coun McGill said: “Parents have a responsibility to ensure their child attends school but all too often, non-attendance is condoned by families for a number of reasons. We can’t allow this to continue.
“We are committed to improving the quality of education and enhancing opportunities for young people across the city but that can only happen if pupils are attending school regularly.”
“We will continue to clamp down on persistent non-attendance at school and as we have shown in recent prosecutions we have undertaken, continual absenteeism can result in parental fines and in some circumstances, parents can even be sent to prison.”
Keith Jones, who is a governor at Llanrumney High School and on the preliminary board of governors for Eastern High, as well as being a councillor for Llanrumney, said: “We all fundamentally know that education standards need to be tackled and improved in Cardiff.
“Attendance is key. It’s one of the cornerstones of child education.
“The key is to make school fun and rewarding to students but also make parents understand they can’t take their kids on holiday during term time. I think if it’s long term and persistent, then action has to be taken. What good reason does a child have for missing school regularly? – this needs to be looked at.
“It’s in all the community’s interest that every child is educated and every child meets their potential.
“The eastern education in Cardiff has been broken for a number of years. The days (when) you went to your local comprehensive are broken and parents have taken their children to other parts of the city for schooling.”
But he was hopeful about the effect changes to education in the area would have when Llanrumney High and Rumney High become Eastern High in September, adding: “It’s not going to be rapid progress but there’s no reason why with this education partnership, things can’t improve.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “These figures have been taken out of context. Reporting on one part of the data in isolation does not provide an accurate reflection of the challenges each school face.
“We’re making real and significant progress in tacking absenteeism in Wales. Both primary and secondary school attendance are at their highest levels since we started collecting the data.
“Latest figures show that the secondary attendance rate improved by 0.8 percentage points on the previous year , while primary attendance rate improved by 0.5 percentage points on the previous year. This is the largest single year on year improvement seen over the past seven years for secondary attendance and in the past five years for primary attendance.
“We understand there is still work to do and that’s why Minister for Education and Skills announced £800,000 in consortia funding to support local authorities in their work to improve school attendance.”