Shocking figures of Falkirk school attendances revealed

Two children in Falkirk went to school less than half of the time they should have. Picture: Michael Gillen
Two children in Falkirk went to school less than half of the time they should have. Picture: Michael Gillen

A four-year-old girl was left to get her older brother ready for school because her mother was suffering from depression.

The nursery pupil would use the clock on daytime television to judge when to send her sibling off and only knew it was a term day because she would see children in uniforms from her window.

The harrowing tale was told by a nursery teacher at a meeting to discuss attendance in Falkirk schools and the issues some youngsters face in getting to class.

Last year, 14 primary one pupils in Falkirk had an attendance record of less than 70 per cent, while two children went less than half of the time.

The shocking figures were revealed at the council’s education executive on Tuesday, with councillors agreeing something has to be done.

One nursery teacher said the figures didn’t shock her.

She said: “I had a nursery pupil who was only four and it was her responsibility to get her older brother to school.

“She knew it was time to send him off to school by using the clock on breakfast television and by looking out the window to check if children were walking past dressed in their school uniform.

“Her mother was battling depression and although she was the younger sibling, she was more responsible and took it upon herself to get her brother to school on time.”

She added: “To have 14 children in primary one not attending school regularly is disastrous. It is the start of their educational career, if they get off on the wrong foot, it will impact all their lives.”

The report into attendance was in response to a request from the education executive and included stats for children involved with social services and additional support needs.

The figures show that attendance levels are worst in S3-5 and looked after at home children – those subject to a supervision requirement from the Children’s Panel but not placed in foster or children homes – are the least likely to attend school regularly, averaging just 75 per cent.

While Falkirk Council has slightly above average attendance rates, with primary pupils attending 95 per cent and secondary children 91 per cent, 508 local youngsters had poor attendance last year. The vast majority of children with very poor attendance are known to social services, but elected members said more must be done.

Councillor Gerry Goldie said: “We all know people in our areas that can’t tell what day of the week it is, let alone get their children to school. We have to ask ourselves, are we putting enough resources into resolving the problem? We must start as soon as a problem is identified. I don’t care if our figures are better than other authorities, we have to get it right for every child.”

SNP councillor Tom Coleman said: “ We have 174 pupils going to school less than half of the time, these children will struggle to hold down a job and have poor literacy. Now we know the problem groups, we need to target them.”

DETAILED REPORT CALLED FOR

Falkirk Council education executive called for a detailed report on school attendance after the attendance panel was dissolved.

The panel met with youngsters when their attendance went below 70 per cent and looked at the causes as well as ways to get the child back to school.

The 2014-15 report included figures for children from families known to social services, from areas of depravation, with additional support needs and for each year group.

Speaking at the meeting, director of children’s services Robert Naylor said there were no comparable publications from other local authorities to gauge how well Falkirk is caring for vulnerable youngsters.

He said: “This makes it difficult to know if this is better or worse than average, but it does help to identify the problem areas.”

Councillor Linda Gow welcomed the detailed report but said one vulnerable group had been left out.

Speaking at the meeting, she said: “There are no figures for young carers. They face some of the biggest difficulties in getting to school and we should be identifying them and giving them additional support to make it easier for them to get to class.

“I heard from a young girl who was disciplined for going to school at 10.30am instead of 9am. But she has a severely autistic brother who kept her up until 7am, so that she got to school at all is miraculous. She should have been praised, not disciplined.”

Mr Naylor agreed carers were a vulnerable group but said they were difficult to get statistics for.

He said: “Young carers are self identifying so the schools don’t necessarily know a pupil is a young carer. Certainly when we do know, the schools offer additional support and we have mechanisms in place to try to identify them. Young carers shouldn’t be disciplined because they have issues at home and it’s something I will raise with head teachers to pass on to their staff.”