Research School Network: Attendance: Communicating with Parents The latest in our series on attendance examines how we can communicate with parents


Attendance: Communicating with Parents

The latest in our series on attendance examines how we can communicate with parents

by Bradford Research School
on the

It is hard to think of any solution to attendance challenges that doesn’t acknowledge the importance of working with parents, carers and families. The recent EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment on attendance acknowledges that Positive impacts were found for both parental communication approaches and targeted parental engagement interventions.’

A shift in attitudes

But the recently published Public First report, Listening to, and learning from, parents in the attendance crisis’, suggests that parental attitudes towards attendance have shifted.

There has been a paradigm shift in the view of parents. Pre Covid, ensuring your child’s daily attendance at school was seen as a fundamental element of good parenting. Post Covid, parents no longer felt that to be the case, and instead view attending school as one of several – often competing – options or demands on their child on a daily basis, against a backdrop of a more holistic approach to daily life.

Any approach to engaging parents around pupil attendance needs to acknowledge this backdrop, and school leaders should seek to understand how parental perception of attendance affects the way that messages should be communicated.

How to communicate

A school that communicates well with parents will be better equipped to deal with the specifics around attendance, so reviewing this is important. The EEF’s Working with Parents to Support Children’s Learning guidance report recommends we start by:

  • developing a clear plan for what you want to achieve;
  • auditing your current practice to assess what is working well and what is not;
  • listening to what less-involved parents would find helpful; and
  • stopping activities without clear benefits

We should then consider where some of the barriers lie, which might include where and when support for parents is delivered. Or the way that messages are communicated, such as inaccessible jargon, access to mobile phones or messages not translated into suitable languages.

When we consider approaches to communicating around attendance specifically, we should consider the fact that many of the same barriers to pupil attendance will affect parents’ willingness/​ability to engage with schools e.g. travel; ill-health.

Our approaches should combine simple messages to parents via regular communication channels, but also targeted parental engagement interventions where appropriate. The EEF Rapid Evidence Assessment showed a positive impact of multi-step approaches:

A key component of the interventions was building effective partnerships between schools and parents, through discussions, meetings and conferences. The purpose of these partnerships was to identify issues leading to absences and collaboratively source effective solutions to the problems. All interventions in this category were multi-component in nature, featuring a range of services available to parents and pupils.

What to communicate

We must be careful not to assume that parents and carers are unwilling or unable to support the school.

For example, it may be that they simply have a misconception about school absences. This might be an incorrect perception of what a reasonable or normal number of absences looks like. One study1 suggests that a simple comparison with typical’ number of days missed can have a small positive impact on absence rates.

There are a number of beliefs identified in the Public First report that are not unreasonable, but which can be challenged, such as missing one day is not that important’; authorised absences are fine’ etc. Schools should consider how to address these common ideas in their communications. 

The Ad Council in California worked with 1000 parents to explore how messages can be communicated regarding attendance. Some of their suggestions include:

  • Approach the issue of absences out of concern, rather than compliance. Make parents feel supported, rather than guilty and in trouble.
  • Refer to absences by month, rather than by year. Point out that just 2 days missed per month” has consequences, instead of 18 days missed per year.”
  • Use simple, easy-to-understand language. Avoid complicated statistics, hyperbole, or metaphors.
  • Be realistic about what you are asking parents to do. Avoid implying that parents should send children to school when they’re sick.
  • Frame the discussion around absences” rather than attendance.” Talking about attendance” validates what parents already believe they do; talking about absence” focuses their attention on what they’re missing.

1Rogers, T. & Feller, A. (2018). Reducing student absences at scale by targeting parents’ misbeliefs.

Mark Miller is Director of Bradford Research School.

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