How to avoid school attendance horrors this Halloween
Heads and teachers know school attendance is hugely important.
It is a key performance measure for inspection bodies like Ofsted. A school which ranks poorly for attendance will rank poorly in league tables.
Teachers know that poor attendance often also has an adverse impact on test or exam results, another key indicator of a school’s performance.
Setting the league tables to one side, poor attendance can also severely limit the potential of a pupil.
Many teachers will see that a pupil who could be making progress has such a poor attendance record that they’re always playing catch-up with their classmates.
That can lead to a vicious circle for a pupil: they feel out of step or left behind, and continue being absent to avoid that feeling.
Why does school attendance fall?
There can be a number of causes of a poor attendance at school.
Some children feel overwhelmed when they start or change schools. Some pupils feel like they aren’t keeping up with their classmates, while others feel they aren’t being stretched enough and become disengaged.
Pupils can pester their parents to allow them to stay at home. That can be powerful – sometimes, pupils can cry and become very distressed. Parents can find it very difficult to be firm under those circumstances.
There are also cases of pupils being taken out of school during term time for holidays.
It may also be that, in some cases, parents are unaware of the real impact of absences on their child’s education.
Many headteachers have come to the conclusion they need to appoint someone whose focus it is to ensure attendance on a daily basis – and to talk to parents and pupils about the causes. If there is a cause like bullying or problems at home, staff can provide families with support to help them through it.
They have also realised staff need to talk to parents and engage them, explaining why attendance is so important.
A number of innovative schemes have shown that when pupils and parents see their school as the heart of their community, somewhere where learning is fun and engaging, attendance improves.
Giving pupils a voice in their classes is also an important tool.
So what can be done?
Case studies show that involving parents and engaging pupils is the key to success:
Case study 1
In one school in Lancashire, parents, staff, and pupils came together to make good attendance a priority.
Before the scheme, which began in 2009, attendance at Hillside Community Primary School in Skelmersdale had been recorded as well below national average. In 2004/5, it had fallen to 91.3%.
A new executive team appointed in 2009 made improving attendance a priority for the whole school.
- Took on a learning mentor full time, and gave them the day-to-day responsibility for attendance.
- Created an attendance points system which was shared every week at assembly and put on display in the school’s hall.
- Created a reward system led by pupils and awarded every half term.
- Rewarded pupils with 100% attendance every term.
- Created a warning system for parents based on traffic lights – to ensure their children were on track.
- Established a ‘walking bus’ and free breakfast club.
- Gave pupils an input into the curriculum to boost engagement and attendance.
Parents became keen to ensure their children were in school and on time every day, and children encouraged their classmates to help them gain the rewards.
In 2014, attendance was at 97.1%, putting the school in the top 20% for attendance for all schools.
Case study 2
St Helen’s Primary School in Swansea has halved absenteeism since 2010.
Its efforts won the recognition of Welsh school inspection body, Estyn.
At St Helen’s:
- Staff have been working with parents to stress the importance of good attendance for their children.
- Local doctors and dentists have worked with the school to give pupils routine appointments outside classroom hours.
- The school moved from the bottom 25% for attendance of schools with a similar number of pupils eligible for free meals to the top 25% in 2013/4.
- Test results also improved.
What can parents do?
- Listen to their child and take their concerns seriously.
- Break them down into root causes and act on each one – if a child is worried about falling behind, talk to their teacher about the area where they’re having problems, and work with them for 10 to 15 minutes each evening.
- Help children connect with their friends outside school by having them over for tea. A child with friends in school is less likely to want to be absent.
- Support teachers in explaining how important it is to go to school.
- Present school in a positive light – somewhere they’ll have fun and learn new things.
Find out how you can implement a system to boost attendance in your school book a place on the ‘Outstanding School Attendance National Conference, 2017, for more information email email@example.com.
NSM Training & Consultancy provides expert training for headteachers, teachers, and school staff. Read more about the work here: https://www.nsmtc.co.uk/
The company was established by international education consultant and teacher Nicola S Morgan. She developed a reputation for excellence in dealing with the most difficult pupils and now runs training courses for schools and parents and is a published author in the field.