Leeds & West Yorkshire

Keighley schools tackle poor attendance rates

Each year in England millions of school days are lost as pupils take time off for illness or holidays.

Latest figures from the Department for Education show 430,000 pupils miss 15% of lessons - the equivalent of having a month off school every year.

Schools in one West Yorkshire town where attendance is below the national average are taking action to combat the problem.

The Keighley First Group of Schools, which is made up of 15 schools in the area, have made a DVD highlighting the importance of good attendance.

The DVD, which premiered at the town's cinema on Monday, is presented by pupils and shows them debating the issue with teachers, parents and community figures.

John Devlin, head teacher of Our Lady of Victories Catholic Primary School, said there were two main reasons for Keighley's poor school attendance record.

'Important issue'

He said: "First of all it's extended leave, which can be families going abroad for a number of months at a time.

"In Keighley it tends to mainly be families with Pakistani heritage going for family weddings or funerals.

"The other reason is illness. It would appear that Keighley seems to be a little bit more poorly than most places, we don't exactly know why.

"But we are determined to do something about our attendance levels."

Pupil Liam Whiteoak, who took part in the film, said: "It's an important issue so it's good to help.

"If you are not at school you're not learning and you meet a lot of your friends at school and spend a lot of time with them at school so it's really important."

His father Gordon said: "[The DVD] put across the point very well that good attendance will ultimately mean good results."

Ten-year-old Hadiqa Ilyas agreed that good attendance was important.

She said: "If you just sit at home and pretend that you are poorly there's no point because you won't learn anything."

Prosecution risk

Her mother Balkies said: "A lot of it is looking for cheaper holidays and also going to Pakistan as well because a lot of parents take their children abroad and instead of two weeks they might stay for two months.

"They don't realise that when they stay that long the children go back to school and they don't remember the work they have done, they might be behind."

Image caption Head teacher John Devlin said his school had to be tough on the issue

At Our Lady of Victories attendance levels have improved recently.

Mr Devlin said: "They have gone up quite dramatically, 2% in the last year, which doesn't sound a lot but it's actually an extra four days per child in the school.

"We have done that in a number of ways, talking about attendance every week, bigging it up, and a bit of bribery's always a good thing."

Each week the class with the best attendance record is allowed an extra five minutes' of play time, and each half term pupils with 100% attendance records are entered into a draw to win a new iPod.

The school has also created "My School Attendance Matters" wristbands, which will be given to pupils with good attendance records.

Ultimately parents who take their children out of school without authorisation can see their children removed from the school roll, or they can be fined or prosecuted.

Mr Devlin added: "We have to be tough because you only get one chance at education.

"Attendance is absolutely essential. Better attendance means better achievement because the children are learning more and better achievement means better results which ultimately leads to better life choices."

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