Research School Network: Improving attendance is key, but what is the key to improving attendance?

Improving attendance is key, but what is the key to improving attendance?

As Head of Year, a key part of my role is to meet weekly with our Attendance Manager to discuss students who have low attendance and to decide what strategy to put in place to deal with this.

The link between absence and attainment is underpinned by research, such as that conducted in 2015 by the Department for Education that investigated the link between key stage 2 and key stage 4 attainment and different levels of pupil absence. The overall conclusion was that there was a definite negative correlation present and that the higher the percentage of missed sessions, the lower the likely level of attainment for the student at the end of both key stage 2 and key stage 4. So far, so obvious. Particularly notable is the finding that pupils with no absence are 1.5 times more likely to achieve 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent and 2.8 times more likely to achieve 5+ GCSEs A*-C or equivalent including English and mathematics than pupils missing 15 – 20 per cent of KS4 lessons’.

Aside from direct academic implications, the work of Farrington (2009) shows that a lack of commitment to, and investment in, schooling is a significant risk factor and that young people who are frequently absent from school are more likely to become involved in, or be a victim of crime and anti-social behaviour.

Changes to government legislation in 2013 have attempted to improve attendance. It means that schools are no longer allowed to authorise requests for children to be taken out of school for a holiday during term time and that a penalty notice will be given to parents if they fail to ensure that their child attends school regularly.

However, Ming Zhang, principal education officer at Kingston upon Thames Council investigated the use of penalty notices to punish non-attendance. Interestingly, his research found no link between fining parents and school attendance. He also suggested that administering penalty notices is a last resort and that rather than being a way of preventing poor attendance, it is reactive. This is certainly the case with many of the interventions’ we currently use, such as letters home to parents once a child’s students drops below 93 percent.

In order to be preventative we need to consider the reasons why students have poor attendance, and prevent this happening in the first place. One of the key factors that seems to be responsible is curriculum issues where a student is performing poorly and struggling with their studies. Another factor is a lack of drive to do well at school, which may be linked to the lack of a long-term goal or career aim. Additionally, having parents who do not value education in general, and school attendance in particular seems to have a significant impact. However, there is a lack of empirical evidence into this area as well as into what really works in terms of preventing poor attendance in the first place.

As a team, we will be doing some inquiry over the coming months into strategies we can use to address some of these issues and will measure their effectiveness in improving attendance. Hopefully, my next attendance blog will be reporting some successful intervention strategies.

We can consider some important questions as teachers and school leaders:

  • What do our attendance patterns reveal to us about our students? Is there a negative correlation between low attendance and attainment, and for whom?
  • What support factors can we put in place to reduce school absence? e.g. parental engagement; academic support etc.
  • How can we best implement and evaluate any approaches we undertake to reduce absenteeism?


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