STUDENTS in Tamworth are skipping school more than they used to, according to the latest figures.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority data suggests that between 2015 and 2019, attendance rates dropped in many schools across the region. Statistics were not taken in 2020 due to COVID-19.
While there are exceptions, the majority of schools in the city - both public and private - have seen a steady decline in attendance.
Four out of the six local schools that offer secondary education have seen drop offs in recent times.
Tamworth High School and Oxley High School enjoyed their best attendance in recent times in 2016, but have seen drops of 5 per cent and 4 per cent respectively since then.
Peel High School and Calrossy have suffered a 4 per cent dip from 2015 - although the latter contains both primary and secondary pupils. Carinya, which is also combined, has stayed steady.
The most consistent was McCarthy Catholic College, which recorded a 92 per cent attendance rate from 2015 to 2019.
McCarthy assistant principal Mick Larkin said the school allocates significant resources to ensuring students don't miss class too often, and has systems in place for when they do.
"We do have processes in place that when we notice attendance issues and problems, we have certain people talking to the kids and family after a certain amount of time," he said.
"And it goes to more specialised people as greater issues or problems might occur."
He said making sure kids enjoy school was one of the easiest ways to ensure good attendance, although he said it has been difficult since students returned to the classroom after lockdown last year.
He said some students struggled with the change back to face-to-face learning. The NSW Department of Education (DoE) also acknowledged attendance numbers have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 in the past 18 months.
"2019-2020 data indicates a slight decline from pre-19-20 levels for daily attendance in secondary schools, which we expect is attributed to the requirement for students to stay at home for COVID-19-like symptoms," a spokesperson said.
Attendance level figures represent the number of students who attend school more than 90 per cent of the time.
Between 2015 and 2019, Calrossy recorded 83 per cent attendance, Carinya (71 per cent), McCarthy (70 per cent), Oxley (55 per cent), Peel (46 per cent) and Tamworth High (42 per cent) lagged well behind.
One thing that is consistent across all schools is the difference in attendance rates from the first semester, to term three.
In every instance, fewer students attended after the mid-year break, with some schools recording a dip of up to 5 per cent.
The overall problem may be greater than it looks on paper, however, with head of the Tamworth regional crime prevention group, councillor Russell Webb, revealing some kids slip between the cracks completely.
"A lot of people from a low socio-economic background move to Tamworth, they don't register their kids in school because the parents may not have had a great education themselves, so they don't go to school," he said.
"Kids that wag school don't get an education, and then they become less informed, so they don't get good jobs," he said.
"And they don't contribute to the betterment of their own lives, but they certainly don't contribute to a better community and a lot of them can get in trouble over time and that's what we don't want."
He said discussions have taken place between the crime prevention group and NSW Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell about how truancy officers can become more effective.
The DoE said truancy levels in the Peel Valley are consistent with much of the state, and schools with particularly low attendance will receive additional support to ensure resources are being targeted in the most appropriate way to lift attendance rates.
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