Research School Network: The Evidence Base behind Attendance Interventions The importance of attendance means that there is a growing demand for a review of the research into attendance interventions.

The Evidence Base behind Attendance Interventions

The importance of attendance means that there is a growing demand for a review of the research into attendance interventions.

by Durrington Research School
on the

Attendance Blog Video

Discussion of the attendance crisis” in schools is virtually impossible to avoid at the moment, it has escaped the confines of the edu-sphere and is regularly a topic of main stream news and debate. Official DfE figures for the autumn term show that persistence absence remains at 20.1% across the country, however when zooming into secondary schools this number increases to 24.6% and becomes even more concerning when looking at FSM-eligible students where the number hits a worrying 33%.

The question is…how to solve a problem like attendance? Low attendance is a multi-faceted problem, with multiple causes and influences and there is also a dearth of research into the best strategies for schools to take in their efforts to improve it. In March 2022, the EEF published a Rapid Evidence Assessment of Attendance Interventions, and have since begun to develop a suite of resources to support school leaders in addressing attendance. The EEF stresses that more research is needed in this field and that the resources available are a best bet approach, not a sure-fire way to improve attendance. The review begins by highlighting that:

- There is large variation in the strategies that have been researched with the aim of improving pupil attendance
- The overall quality of the evidence is weak
- Many of the researched intervention lacked the sufficient evidence to reach a conclusion on their effectiveness.
- However it does state that some intervention do show some promise.

The Evidence Review initially discovered 18,863 studies linked to interventions aimed at reducing absenteeism. Following screening of these 72 studies met the criteria for inclusion in the review. From these 72 studies the interventions used could be grouped into 8 categories, the evidence base and potential success of which will be discussed below.

Intervention 1 – Mentoring:

Mentoring interventions involve pairing your people with an older peer or adult who acts a positive role model. Mentoring interventions aim to build relationships, develop resilience and raise aspirations, and therefore hopefully attendance. To be included in the review mentoring interventions had to meet with students at least once per week. Such a time and man power investment must be carefully considered and in an ideal world be supported by robust evidence that mentoring interventions positively impact on attendance. For example, McQuillan (2016) found reductions in unexcused absences from students receiving mentoring from in school staff. However, the range of effects for mentoring was large with some studies showing a significant negative effect and others a large positive impact. In addition of the 8 studies to focus on mentoring interventions, 5 were considered to have a high risk of bias and none were conducted in UK schools, meaning that any inferences should be made with caution.

Intervention 2 – Parental Engagement:

The studies included in the review identified two types of parental engagement interventions. Parental Communication interventions aim to increase awareness of the consequences of absenteeism so that parents take a more active role in ensuring their child attends. A meta-analysis of 7 studies found that the impact of such interventions was positive but only to a very small extent. One study examined the different impact of communication that encouraged better attendance, informed guardians about their student’s absence and comparing students to absence with what is normal – however there was not enough evidence to reliably infer which (if any had a bigger impact).

Targeted parental engagement interventions are responsive in nature and include approaches such as staff having meetings with parents to find the root cause of low attendance and then plan accordingly to address these issues. Such interventions are naturally more intensive than the communication intervention described above. 8 studies formed part of a meta-analysis on the impacts of targeted interventions and found a small but positive impact on attendance of such strategies.

The studies included in this part of the review had on average a lower risk bias and larger sample sizes and as such the EEF propose parental engagement interventions as a promising area”, although more UK based research is needed.

Intervention 3 – Responsive and Targeted Approaches to Attendance

Many approaches to improving attendance do not have a specified intervention, rather they are responsive to the context of each case. As such as they require close monitoring of pupils that need attendance support, often need 1:1 support and are multi-faceted. From the 7 studies looking into such strategies the overall finding was that they had a small positive impact, however the small number of studies and high risk bias of those included in the review does mean that such findings should be treated with caution. Like the parental engagement strategies more research with larger sample sizes and within the UK is needed, however such areas do show signs of promise.

Intervention 4 – Teaching of social and emotional approaches

Such approaches aim to build social and emotional skills such as self-regulation that are corelated with better attendance. Interventions can be delivered within school through classroom activities or assemblies. As has been the case with other interventions the review of 9 studies that focused in social and emotional approached found a small positive impact on attendance, however the range of impacts was significant meaning that such interventions may not have any impact or even a negative impact in some settings. In addition, only 2 of the 7 studies were identified as having low risk bias, and the most successful intervention, named Positive Action”, was found in a pilot study to not yet be transferrable to English schools.

Intervention 5 ‑Behaviour Interventions

The logic behind these interventions focuses on two key areas. Firstly, improved behaviour for an individual with low attendance may result in a more positive relationship with school and therefore increased attendance. Secondly a reduction in negative behaviours that impact on other students (i.e. bullying) may encourage others to attend more.

Whilst studies do consistently identify poor behaviour as negatively impacting attendance, however the evidence of how to positively impact attendance through behaviour interventions is limited. The limited number of studies and variation in regards to intervention used within these means calculating an average effect size was not appropriate, while none of the studies were conducted in the UK or had a low risk bias.

Intervention 6 – Meal Provision

Some studies have attempted to identify if meal provision in school (i.e. breakfast clubs and/​or school lunches) positively impact on school attendance. The reasoning for this is that provision of school meals will have nutritional benefits for students potentially reducing sickness absence, while it will also potentially remove a barrier to school engagement for disadvantaged students. The review found that participation in universal meal provision (i.e. all students were provided with a meal) had no or only a small positive impact on attendance when compared to more targeted meal provision. One study (Bartfield, 2020) found that breakfast provision had a greater positive impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, however the reliability of this data is questionable to due a risk of bias and lack of control on external variables.

Three studies looked at the impact of breakfast provision within the classroom versus the school canteen. All three found some positive impact of classroom provision but again the sample sizes are too small to draw reliable inferences from.

Intervention 7 – Incentives and Disincentives

The underlying concept here is that extrinsic motivators, either rewards for strong attendance or sanctions for poor attendance, will encourage students to sustain good attendance. Across the studies there were mixed outcomes with several studies actually finding negative impacts on attendance, while others found it difficult to isolate the impacts of incentives from other approaches.

Intervention 8 – Extracurricular Activities

Extra-curricular activities interventions provide additional educational opportunities outside of the regular curriculum, with the aim of increasing student engagement in school and therefore attendance. The review identified 7 studies including a mixture of non-athletic and athletic activities, and found that there is limited evidence that extracurricular activities increase pupil attendance. 5 of the 7 studies reported a positive impact on attendance but the effect sizes were highly variable (often including both a positive and negative range), and no studies took place in English schools.

Attendance is rightfully something schools are striving to improve – being in school and in front of teachers is fundamental to academic success. However attendance remains a field where further research is required to provide a secure evidence base, however there are signs (in some intervention approaches) of promising potential.

If you want to read the full Rapid Evidence Assessment report or explore the other attendance resources from the EFF please visit the EEF webpage here.

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