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Another barrier to virtual schools - absentee targets

A recent news item in the TES (Times Educational Supplement) for 22 July 2011 cites yet another barrier to virtual schools erected by a Ministry, to add to the need for "monitored assignments" in England and even fire safety checks on the homes of homelearning students in Wales!

The TES blog reports that:

Currently, pupils who miss 20 per cent – just over six weeks – of a school year are deemed persistently absent. From October, the Department for Education is changing this threshold to 15 per cent. National figures showing the numbers of pupils who miss 12.5 per cent, 10 per cent and 5 per cent of lessons will also be published for the first time. This includes children on school rolls with long-term health problems and disabilities.

Ministry officials do try to reassure readers that they recognise that the reforms will mean children could be classed as being persistently absent if they have had “relatively minor illnesses”.

The TES blog quotes from the DfE document where an official says: “Of course there are pupils who are off school for long periods of time for medical reasons and it is important that the Government is not seen to be heavy-handed with families going through difficult times. Nor should schools be penalised for the absence of genuinely sick children.”

But others are sceptical that the Ministry will hold to this view. Staff at Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School in Hertfordshire are supporting a Year 10 pupil who has only managed a 10 per cent attendance rate this year. Despite this she has taken five GCSEs this summer, some while in hospital.

The TES blog quotes the Headteacher as saying: “This new target shows no recognition of what schools are actually doing to support those absent for medical reasons. I know there are a lot doing similar work to us.

Is it not about time that Ministries of Education got away from the place-based paradigm of teaching in schools and learned from best practice in virtual schools in US, Canada and Sweden?

Paul Bacsich, VISCED Project Manager

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