Motion - Public Account Committee's review of Auditor General's report into Student Attendance &c...

Tuesday 23 August 2022, Consideration & noting


Consideration and Noting - Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Public Accounts - Review of Auditor-General's Report No. 8 of 2018-19: Student Attendance and Engagement, Years 7 to 10


[3.15 p.m.]

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I move -


That the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee of Public Accounts Review of Auditor-General's Report No. 8 of 2018-19: Student Attendance and Engagement, Years 7 to 10 be considered and noted.


[3.23 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - - Mr President, I read with interest the PAC's review on the Auditor‑General's report regarding student attendance and engagement, years 7 to 10. These crucial and formative years in a person's life can set the direction of their future. It is incumbent upon all of us - lawmakers, parents, teachers, policymakers and families - to make sure that every Tasmanian adolescent has access to the right resources and has the best chance possible to succeed and thrive at school and beyond.


Attendance is obviously necessary for a student to be able to learn and grow. The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the way our kids learn, and being kept away from physical attendance and face‑to‑face interaction with their teachers and peers posed an unprecedented set of challenges for everybody.


The way we understood attendance and engagement completely changed as our children learned through their computers and tablets, and things like drama and sports became impossible to coordinate. I express my sincerest admiration for our teachers and schools for adapting during the pandemic. To ensure that our children were not left too far behind with their learning and giving them the tools to learn at home have been essential to keeping their engagement with their educational life, and our teachers, parents and students did an incredible job. In fact, I have been told that many parents felt that they could go on and be teachers they have done so much of it now. They have all done a wonderful job.


Mr Willie - I think we need a few too.


Ms ARMITAGE - In usual circumstances, maintaining good attendance is vital to having positive educational outcomes. The multiplier effect of absenteeism over time can place a student months or even years behind a student of the same age whose attendance rates were good. Missing one day every two weeks equals 20 days a year, which is four weeks. Over the course of a 13-year term of schooling, that student will be one-and-a-half years behind a student who did not miss those days. A student who misses one day of school a week will therefore be three years behind a student who did not.


There is a difference between attendance and engagement, as the reports acknowledged. A student can be attending school, even doing better than the bare minimum, but still be failing to meaningfully engage with their schoolwork and their learning. According to the Tasmanian Audit Office report, attendance is only part of the equation for good educational outcomes, as the level of participation and intrinsic interest a student shows in school is of equal importance.


Research indicates there was a significant proportion of students who are quietly and passively disengaged from learning. These students are behaviourally compliant and do enough work to sit above minimum for the standards, so their disengagement may not be indicated in data or analysis. However, they may be disengaged to such an extent as to fall well short of reaching their full potential.


This is worrying. To me, it indicates that young people may be lacking in optimism about their futures and consider it is not worthwhile to invest much of their own effort, pride and enthusiasm into their learning and their growth. It suggests that they are not willing to try as hard as they can to engage, learn and perform. Proper engagement of students to maximise their participation, performance, and potential also depends on having and implementing good policies. This responsibility falls on us as lawmakers. What is clear, is that there is no one‑size‑fits-all measure that can be implemented that will resolve issues as big as this.


However, recording, maintaining and analysing data about attendance, retention, engagement and participation is essential to formulating good policy. A number of metrics and benchmarks have been developed to assess student and school performance, and I note that the PAC found that the Department of Education has taken significant steps, including through the use of data analytics, to identify at-risk cohorts in all schools. One of the PAC recommendations was that this data also be used for monitoring and reporting the effectiveness of student engagement strategies.


The Tasmanian Audit Office report found that the Department of Education collects information on attendance and absence, but no evidence was found to show that this data is used to effectively monitor trends or establish improvement targets for students at highest educational risk. The PAC review did, however, find that the department is using attendance information to measure Department of Education and school performance and is used in school improvement plans. Developing a cohesive response is a monumental task, and I understand that it is a work in progress. There are ways in which data that is currently being collected can be used more meaningfully.


To this end, I note that the Tasmanian Audit Office report recommends that the Department of Education considers providing further clarity to schools regarding the inclusion of targets in school improvement plans for improved parent, community and stakeholder engagement. Clarity is needed and schools, principals and teachers should be allowed discretion in how they manage the collection of data. This is a delicate balance.


I understand that coordination between the department and schools must present a number of challenges. I note from the PAC review that, in the implementing the recommendations arising from the 2019 Family Engagement Review, the Department of Education developed the Together with Families approach. This includes clear expectations for staff to build strong and trusting relationships with families; be guided by engagement principles to be caring, purposeful, inclusive, genuine, responsive and effective; and be deliberate about how families are engaged in decision-making.


Good performance at school really does start at home, and we cannot help our families unless they have a solid base at home and that families are also engaged with their children's learning. The Together with Families approach seems to be a very good start and the employment of a family engagement project officer to implement the program I am sure is helping. I hope to see some more quantitative data relating to the work of the Together with Families approach and the effectiveness of the family engagement project officer in the months and years ahead, when there has been a good chance for the policy to be implemented and assessed.


Mr President, our children's education is too important to neglect or not take seriously. Their future, and ours, quite literally depends on having a quality education system where Tasmanian kids feel safe, accepted, engaged and are given every chance to grow and succeed. The Tasmanian Audit Office report into attendance and engagement is necessary to ensure that our current educational policies are on track to deliver on positive educational outcomes. Similarly, our Joint Standing Committee of Public Accounts review into this report can help guide the way we contextualise educational policy development, implementation, and improvement over time. I thank the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee for bringing this motion, and the Public Accounts Committee for their work on this important issue.

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