The organisation claims that attendance is the weakest aspect of pupils’ wellbeing and that it is often poverty and disadvantage that underline more serious attendance and behavioural issues in schools.
In written evidence to the Assembly’s Children and Young People Committee (CYPC), Estyn said pupils from less well off backgrounds are more likely to be absent, more likely to behave in a challenging way, and more likely to be excluded from school.
Latest figures show the overall rate of absence in Welsh secondary schools in 2011/12 was 7.9 per cent, with 10.7 per cent of sessions missed in schools with more than 30 per cent of free school meal entitlement. This compares to 6.3 per cent of sessions in schools with 10 per cent or less pupils on free school meals.
In its report, Estyn said attendance rates had been highlighted for improvement in around half of the 15 local authorities inspected in the current cycle.
“While attendance is good in many of the schools we inspect, it is the weakest aspect of pupils’ wellbeing,” it stated. “In about a third of secondary schools, attendance is not good enough.”
Estyn added: “All the cases in which we have seen attendance improve have involved better use of data to challenge under-performance and to target support more effectively where it can have the greatest impact.
“The fact that attendance figures are factored into the Welsh government secondary school banding calculation has also meant that all secondary schools now pay much greater attention to improving attendance rates.”
The CYPC’s inquiry into attendance and behaviour had already heard from truancy expert Professor Ken Reid, who claimed that initial teacher training was “notoriously poor” at providing teachers with the skills to address absenteeism and behavioural issues.
Last year, Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews announced plans to fine parents of children who persistently play truant up to £120. This proposal is currently out to consultation, but has been criticised by NUT Wales which says fines “could lead to a breakdown of relations”.