Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 16, 2022


Public Schools, Absenteeism

The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:36): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Attorney-General, representing the Minister for Education, Training and Skills, on the department's truancy services.

Leave granted.

The Hon. S.L. GAME: I have been informed that statewide there are 34 full-time equivalent social workers for the department, some of whom double as truancy officers. They provide truancy services to children and young people who have ongoing attendance issues. Just recently it was announced that a further three staff will be joining, no doubt also double timing as social workers.

We have also heard the plan to fine some families for non-attendance but not those deemed at risk or struggling, so it is confusing what effect this measure will have. Indeed, I read over the weekend that Crown solicitors are about to fine three parents $5,000—all those resources to potentially yield three fines with unknown outcomes on attendance.

There are 605 state schools that make use of the department's truancy services, yet the feedback I have received from principals and leadership teams across the state is that schools are mandated to report student absenteeism to the truancy hotline, yet it is of no help. It is just an addition to their administrative duties.

Teachers are pairing up to collect children and conduct welfare checks of at-risk kids because there is no department support to follow up these families. This is done during school hours when they should be teaching.

There is a teacher shortage in part caused by people leaving the profession because they did not expect to be social workers or truancy officers. I have raised this issue directly with the minister, and I am still seeking answers. With some schools reporting a persistent 40 per cent non-attendance rate, my questions to the Attorney-General, representing the minister, are:

1. What is the real full-time equivalent of staff solely dedicated to dealing with absenteeism? I'm not asking for social work staffing figures; I'm asking for transparency on truancy officers only.

2. What commitment will the government make to school leaders that chronic absenteeism will be adequately resourced statewide by the department, not by teachers who should be in the classroom?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:38): I thank the honourable member for her question and her interest in this area. I am happy to refer the questions the honourable member has asked to the Minister for Education in another place, the Hon. Blair Boyer (member for Wright) but I can say I know this is something that is a great passion—sorry, I've lost my train of thought. The Leader of the Opposition has just distracted me.

As I said, I'm happy to pass this on to the member for Wright, and as I was about to say before I lost my place, I know the Minister for Education, the Hon. Blair Boyer (member for Wright), has a very significant interest in this area. It is certainly something he has spoken to many of us about: the importance of making sure children have the very best start in life by the very best education, and that means making sure children are at school as much as they can be.