|Description of this FunctionDescription of this Function|
School attendance was first made mandatory in Victoria in 1873. Section 13 of the Education Act 1872 (No.447) provided that children between the ages of six and fifteen years must attend school for a period of sixty days in each half year unless there was some reasonable excuse for their not doing so. The definition of reasonable excuse included that the child was under efficient instruction in some other manner; that the child had been educated to the required standard; that the child was prevented from attending school by illness, fear of infection, temporary or permanent infirmity or unavoidable cause or that there was no State school within two miles of the childs residence.
Section 14 of the Act provided that parents who neglected to send their children to school could be summoned before a Justice, convicted and fined and in default of payment, imprisoned for a maximum of seven days.
The Education Act Amendment Act 1876 (No. 541), section 7, provided for a biennial, mandatory census of school age children. Parents were required to complete a return giving the name, gender, age and place of instruction of each school age child. A consolidated roll was then prepared for each school district.
Section 48 of the Education Act 1910 (No. 2301) prohibited the employment of children during school hours unless they had been granted a legal exemption on the grounds of the illness or poverty of their parents. It also prohibited the employment of children before school if such employment would make them unfit for school work.
From 1873 to 1971, the Education Department (VA 714), was responsible for the regulation of school attendance. In 1971 the Social Welfare Department (VA 946) was established under the provisions of the Social Welfare Act 1970 (No. 8089). Section 9 of that Act transferred responsibility for the administration of the sections of the Education Act 1958 governing school attendance from the Minister for Education to the Minister for Social Welfare.
In 1978 the relevant sections of the Education Act were repealed by section 28 of the Community Welfare Services Act (No. 9248) and new provisions were inserted in the Social Welfare Act 1970. The new provisions amplified but did not fundamentally change the former requirements. In 1987 responsibility for the regulation of school attendance was returned to the Minister of Education by an amendment to the Administration of Acts General Order of 13 July 1987.
The agencies responsible for the regulation of school attendance have used a mix of strategies to achieve their ends. These have included the regulation of the employment of children, the provision of counselling and sometimes financial assistance to parents and students, the provision of professional advice and treatment of children by the School Medical Service and later the staff of the Psychology and Guidance Branch and the sanction of prosecution of offending parents.
District Attendance Officers were employed by the Education Department and from 1971, the Social Welfare Department. They visited schools, inspected rolls, visited the parents of children who were frequently absent from school without authorisation to ascertain the reasons for the absences and to seek to resolve the problem. In some cases they took recalcitrant parents to court.
In 1933 the School Medical Service reported that it was receiving an increasing number of attendance case referrals relating to children who were truants, children who had been absent from school on grounds of illness, children whose attendance was habitually irregular and children who seemed unable to progress. The children were given a medical examination and their abilities were assessed. Medical treatment and advice regarding special educational facilities and training were provided. The 1943/1944 Annual Report included a report of ...an exhaustive survey of one industrial suburb, with particular attention to physical defects and to school and environmental maladjustments in truants. It was considered that this inquiry would result not only in the adoption of immediate remedial measures in individual cases, but also in comprehensive preventive recommendations for future control of the problems of truancy...
In 1974 the Social Welfare Department reported ...significant changing trends in community attitudes towards compulsory education and the resultant Departmental approaches to resolving the problems of young truants.... They noted the rising number of school exemptions being granted to students and the diminishing number of prosecutions of parents. The Department acknowledged that in some cases insistence on attendance was not in the best interests of either the child or the school. The attendance statistics for 1973-4 showed that the reasons for granting school exemptions were the financial circumstances or illness of parents, behaviour problems or lack of progress of the child and requests for permission to enter business college or employment.
As at 1996 the regulation of attendance is primarily the responsibility of individual schools. In larger secondary schools student welfare co-ordinators work with students and parents to resolve truancy problems and special programs are devised to assist students. In primary schools responsibility is usually exercised by the Principal. In some instances cases are referred to regional Guidance Officers or social workers. Since c.1993 the Department has ceased to employ regional attendance officers and prosecution of parents is rare. The General Manager of each region is ultimately responsible for the approval of alternative educational arrangements for children and for the granting of exemptions to children under the statutory age of fifteen.