As the government expands their Attendance Hub programme with more schools and trusts being nominated, I thought it would be good to distil some national thinking and provide you with a quick checklist to ensure we are all doing as much as we can. The Attendance Action Alliance have stated unequivocally that, “Children are better off in education and all barriers to this should be removed,” and I would not disagree.
Colleagues are telling me that some aspects of the national and local agenda are leaning towards secondary provision and while it is vitally important that we motivate and engage these older learners to reconnect with their education before it is too late, I do worry about their younger counterparts in our primary schools.
Why are children not attending school?
Fragile mental health, increased attachment to family and home, gaps in learning and the complex behaviour of peers are all having a toll on our children, who are navigating an already complex academic journey in a post covid world.
Transition from Early Years to Key Stage One – being school ready – and foundations for high school, at the end of year six, are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Whatever the root causes behind the outward-facing behaviour of a school refuser – a lack of engagement in school can have devastating consequences on the whole family.
It would be impertinent to tell you about the importance of attendance for children, but just worth reflecting my important factors in this ever increasing complex part of school leadership and management are:
- Personal and social development
- Academic achievement and aspiration
- Routine and consistency
The Department for Education have updated their Working Together to Improve Attendance Guidance (September 2022) alongside investment in a wider range of measures, including a checklist summarising everyone’s responsibilities for attendance, the wider development of Attendance Hubs and the programme of Attendance Mentors delivered by Barnardo’s. The aim is that these measures will address this persistent issue. The core document cites five key ways in which all schools can work to address the issue of attendance in school, from school culture and system, to legal powers and enforcement.
Aspire to high standards of attendance from all pupils and parents and build a culture where all can, and want to, be in school and ready to learn by prioritising attendance improvement across the school.
Listen and Understand
When a pattern is spotted, discuss with pupils and parents to listen to understand barriers to attendance and agree how all partners can work together to resolve them.
Remove barriers in school and help pupils and parents to access the support they need to overcome the barriers outside of school. This might include an early help or whole family plan where absence is a symptom of wider issues.
Where absence persists and voluntary support is not working or not being engaged with, partners should work together to explain the consequences clearly and ensure support is also in place to enable families to respond. Depending on the circumstances this may include formalising support through a parenting contract or education supervision order.
Where all other avenues have been exhausted and support is not working or not being engaged with, enforce attendance through statutory intervention or prosecution to protect the pupil’s right to an education.
They are also right to cite three key strategies – prevention, early intervention and targeted support, that when administered effectively, will shift the growing tide of children who are out of education more often than in.
However, combine this with the growing squeeze on budgets and time it’s worth reviewing current practice to just check we are doing all we can without impacting on staff time and school resource.
A Quick Checklist
Without compromise, everything you have agreed within your Attendance Policy should be lived out on a daily basis by all staff. Here are my top 5:
Let’s All Give the Same Message
Consistent messages from ALL staff: office, teachers, pastoral team (attendance leads), teaching assistants, lunchtime staff – providing scripted language for everyone ensures the message never changes.
Strong Communication Systems
- Responding to absence: text parents, then phone parents and finally undertake home visits (where appropriate)
- Put it in writing: a consistent set of letters that are sent to parents to remind them of their responsibility to get their children into school and to thank them when it improves.
- Expect parents to phone school every day of an absence. I would consider whether the growing trend of parents being able to text school to report an absence can cause an increase in non-attendance as this non-confrontational tool means it is easier to avoid school staff and sometimes the accountability that goes with it.
- Late Gates: provide a warm face on the gate, expect a reason for being late and form a relationship by offering solutions.
Relationships with Parents and Pupils
There are many ways to break down barriers to attendance – forming strong relationships should always be the first – be it on the gate, in the classroom or undertaking a more personal approach through mentoring and pastoral support.
Making school a place the wider family wants to attend is a huge undertaking logistically and financially but welcoming parents and extended family into school consistently and regularly for different events can have a huge impact on overarching engagement.
Rewarding parents and children for getting into school. It’s free to say thank you and we know that children love certificates and rewards. My only caveat here is that some children, sometimes, cannot get into school, e.g. hospital appointments linked to long term medical conditions – is 100% for them every day, except on appointment days, a better solution to value all?
Looking at attendance data and tracking trends and patterns takes time and skill to look for the right information that will change the outcomes of individuals in your school.
Consider reviewing the management information system you use to make sure it provides you with the information you need – you are the customer. Many providers offer bespoke services to create tracking that works for you.
If this level of rigour is new, although it’s counterintuitive, do start with looking at all of it at the start of each term; then look for trends so that you can follow lines of enquiry and begin to identify small pinch points that need improvement.
Ask lots of questions about the data to interrogate the facts and figures:
- Days of the week patterns – Monday and Friday patterns?
- Sibling attendance patterns – Is everyone off? Is the high school sibling off?
- Timetable patterns – What lessons happen on that day?
- Remove festival absence from overarching figures so that you can see the real issues.
- Track and remove significant illness figures, e.g. Chicken pox when they occurs
The combination of data analysis and strong relationships with parents and families mean when you talk to them you hold enough information to engage in a meaningful conversation about the problem to find a solution.
Are your classrooms more enticing than staying at home? Can we assume that how we do things is enough anymore to counterbalance the option to stay at home? Have some discussions as a staff about what the magic ingredient is to entice your children away from their home.
Coming Soon – Attendance Focus Mini
Emma Ford is in the process of producing her very own Focus Mini based on school attendance. To register your interest, please contact us on 01457 821 818 or email email@example.com.