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Inverness secondary school lauded by Education Scotland for tackling post-pandemic absenteeism among pupils

By Alasdair Fraser

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Millburn Academy, Inverness.
Millburn Academy, Inverness.

An Inverness secondary school has been applauded by a national body for efforts in tackling spiralling absenteeism since the pandemic.

Millburn Academy is being held up as a beacon for other schools across the country by Education Scotland (ES) after securing an eight per cent rise in attendance among pupils impacted by poverty.

Across the whole school, which has around 1250 pupils, there was a two per cent improvement recorded.

An Inverness Courier investigation last year showed absenteeism at Inverness secondary schools had risen across the board since Covid-19 struck – and remained higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Freedom of Information (FOI) figures obtained from Highland Council for the period between 2019 and 2022 showed that up to one in five pupils in the city were missing classes.

In a report titled ‘Improving Attendance: Understanding the Issues’, Scottish Government agency ES said Millburn’s senior leadership team had reacted positively to the noted rise in absences following the pandemic.

They made important changes to support pupils and families, including offering better support within ‘safe spaces’ over break times and at a breakfast club.

Teaching and support staff were also offered training in adverse childhood experiences and trauma.

By targeting individuals in need of greater support, the school achieved those positive rises in attendance.

The ES report states: “The school has implemented the amended Highland Council’s attendance policy and alerted all parents/carers of the most significant features of this.

“As per the policy, staff have started the process of sending standardised letters every four weeks to the parents/carers of young people whose attendance has hit the stated trigger points.

“These letters are sent only after the pastoral team has reviewed the list of pupils to ensure that full consideration of any extenuating circumstances is taken.

“They also operate a rigorous three-day absence process whereby a daily report is extracted to identify pupils who have been absent for three days without reason.

“This report is shared with the pastoral team each day to establish contact with home and ascertain reasons for absence or trigger the child missing from the education process.”

A data dashboard was also used to allow quick and easy checks on attendance information, with the school’s pastoral team reviewing it fortnightly to consider where intervention was necessary.

School staff also work closely with an array of expert partner organisations including the charity Mikeysline, counselling, mental health and mental health groups.

Organisations including Skills Development Scotland, Developing the Young Workforce, the Bridge, Highland Virtual Academy, University of the Highlands and Islands and Inverness Kart Raceway create alternative education packages for those with low attendance.

in-house nurture provision plays a key role in improving attendance.

‘Nurture groups’ had fostered a stronger affiliation with the school among young people, with ‘safe spaces’ over break times, the breakfast club and staff training crucial to the success in improving attendance.

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