Dubbo teachers say the poor attendance rates for local schools are just another symptom of the ongoing teacher shortage which has been impacting schools across the state.
The latest school attendance data - released through the MySchools website last week - reveals, in the first Semester of 2022, less than half of students were present more than 90 percent of the time at all but one local public school.
The school with the lowest attendance level was Dubbo College Delroy Campus where, in Semester one, only 17 percent of students were present more than 90 percent of the time. The school's overall attendance rate of 69 percent was also the lowest in the area.
Percent of students attending school 90 percent or more of the time
Dubbo West Public School also struggled with attendance in the first half of 2022 - with only a quarter of the student cohort attending school more than 90 percent of the time. Overall, attendance at the school sat at 78 percent, the second lowest for public schools in Dubbo.
Kelly Bowman, a retired art teacher and Dubbo-based organiser for the NSW Teachers Federation, said she was "not surprised" to hear about the low attendance levels at these schools.
"It also shouldn't be a shock to people that attendance is low and the NAPLAN scores are low - it reflects the absolutely appalling provision of resources to the most needy students in our community," she said.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) says low attendance seen in schools across the state could in part be attributed to the "impacts of the COVID-19 omicron outbreak, high influenza outbreaks and flooding experienced in some regions".
But Ms Bowman said the issue runs deeper than that.
"It's not surprising that student attendance drops off in the midst of a massive teacher shortage - there's not a lot of incentive for the kids to come to school when they know they won't have a teacher," she said.
"How can teachers build a relationship with children who are sitting in the playground with three other classes because there are not enough teachers there? It's just not possible to give them the individual attention they need or to catch kids that are falling through the cracks."
"It becomes a vicious cycle and the attendance figures are a reflection of lack of engagement. And it all goes back to the failure to recruit and retain teachers."
Last year, Department of Education figures revealed Dubbo College Delroy was among the hardest schools to staff in the state and thousands of hours of classes had to be merged or replaced with minimally-supervised study sessions.
Ms Bowman said not much has improved at Delroy since then and noted that the school was down 13 teachers on Tuesday and Dubbo West Public School was short six.
"They have no access to relief at those schools because there are no casuals available so executive staff who are there to support the day-to-day running of the school are being put into classrooms in an attempt to cover shortages," she said.
"People's grandchildren and their children are coming home and telling them 'we didn't have a teacher today', 'we still haven't got a teacher', 'we sat in the playground for three out of five periods today'."
Student attendance rate
At Dubbo College South Campus, only a third of students were present at school more than 90 percent of the time in Semester 1 and at Dubbo North Public School and Orana Heights Public School the attendance levels were 36 and 37 percent respectively.
The only local public school where more than half of students were present 90 percent of the time or more was Dubbo Public School which had an attendance level of 53 percent.
Asked what they were doing to improve attendance for students at schools in Dubbo, a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said "public schools in Dubbo are continuing to expand a range of wellbeing initiatives to improve student attendance".
"Student attendance is a key focus for both schools. We know every day at school counts for students' educational outcomes," the spokesperson said.
"Dubbo West Public School has relaunched the Positive Behaviour for Learning Program, aimed at increasing consistency in practice across all classrooms."
"Similarly, Dubbo College Delroy Campus is introducing wellbeing award initiatives to celebrate those students who are attending at least ninety per cent of the time. The school is already seeing promising student engagement through Student Support Officers."
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