Investment in new generation of attendance officers for Scottish schools could prove invaluable

Early signs of progress in battle get young Scots back to school

There are no shortage of examples of simmering tensions and poor partnership working between the Scottish Government, local authorities and schools.

These were only exacerbated by Humza Yousaf’s decision last year to freeze council tax amid the toughest financial settlement since devolution.

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The squeeze has left councils and Government on a collision course over all kinds of policy areas, including many in education, such as maintaining teacher numbers and cutting class contact time.

Even on issues not directly related to the budget, there appears to be painfully slow progress.

For example, it was promised in November that an action plan to address rising pupil violence would be published by the Government and council body Cosla in the “new year”, but this has still not materialised, despite the urgency of the crisis.

There is some evidence, however, that progress is being made in the battle to reverse the recent decline in school attendance rates.

The closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic is often blamed for a shift in attitudes relating to attendance but, as so often is the case, it would seem that it is those living in poverty who have been worst affected, with the pressures heightened by mental health problems and the cost-of-living crisis.

The Scottish Government distributes a huge amount of funding, £1 billion in this parliament, to try to close the gap in attainment between the poorest and richest pupils, with limited results to date.

More of this money is now being used by councils and schools to improve attendance.

Evaluations will need to be carried out into the effectiveness of spending on specialist staff to provide a link between families and schools, but the early signs suggest these workers are proving invaluable.

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Indeed, The Scotsman recently asked Shelley McLaren, head teacher at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School, what she would do first if she was handed an increased budget.

She did not hesitate before responding that she would “buy five Donnas”, in reference to the school’s pupil support officer for attendance.

"Fundamentally, education will improve the life chances of our pupils,” the head teacher said, before adding: “So they need to be here.”



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