In the second of two articles, Matt Bromley outlines three important factors when working collaboratively with colleagues and some advice for how attendance officers might engage with new and supply staff.
- All members of staff need to be clear about the expectations of the school in terms of attendance and convey its importance to parents and students.
- Training may be needed to support the effective use of data and the keeping of registers.
- The attendance officer should have systems in place to support new members of staff and supply teachers.
In my first article, I outlined five steps for improving attendance. The success of each of these steps is reliant on attendance officers forging effective working relationships with other staff in school. In the last issue, I looked at the attendance policy (Step 1) and personalisation (Step 2) and will now focus on:
- Step 3: The importance of high expectations
- Step 4: The use of data
- Step 5: Working with parents.
In addition, I will consider some of the different members of staff that an attendance officer must work with and how they might be approached.
Step 3: High expectations
It’s important to promote awareness across the school that absence results in quantifiable lost learning time. As such, the officer should articulate, for example, that missing one day a week means missing out on two weeks of lessons each term.
Staff need to know, therefore, what the latest research says about good attendance and its links to academic achievement, as well as longer-term health and well-being – not to mention improved job prospects and earnings potential. High expectations are only upheld by working in partnership with all staff to ensure they do not condone absences or lateness.
If attendance is to be managed effectively, all staff need to be appropriately skilled, including in how to hold difficult conversations with pupils and parents, because the attendance officer cannot do this alone. The officer may therefore wish to provide staff training and/or coaching and to do this, they will need the support of senior leaders.
One further point here: many teachers will plan sequential lessons and missing one lesson can have a significant impact on a pupil’s ability to catch up or understand what comes next. Put simply, understanding the content of one lesson is contingent on the pupil attending the previous one. The attendance officer could elicit this information by working closely with teachers of subject leaders and could share it with parents to emphasise the importance of attending school.
“High expectations are only upheld by working in partnership with all staff to ensure they do not condone absences or lateness”
Step 4: The use of data
A school needs an effective electronic system and, once installed, it needs to ensure that system provides effective data in a timely manner. To ensure data is valid and useful, it may be necessary to train staff and then regularly reiterate to them:
- the importance of filing accurate and prompt registers
- the appropriate use of codes
- discerning lateness from absence in a consistent manner.
This again requires effective team working between the attendance officer and other staff, and the provision of training and support.
Once the data has been analysed, it needs to be acted upon and this means providing intervention and support. Intervention may involve addressing school-based barriers to attendance such as bullying and friendship issues, which will require all staff who come into contact with the pupil to be aware of and help implement any changes. As such, effective two-way communication is once again key to success.
Step 5: Parents are partners
Step 5 is about working with parents. I said that parents should be regarded as partners in the process of securing good attendance; that way, they will better understand the importance of attendance and punctuality, be more able and willing to uphold high expectations at home and accept any sanctions or referrals to outside agencies.
A partnership is, by definition, a two-way process and so all staff members in the school need to encourage parents to seek support from, and communicate regularly with, school leaders and teachers when help or advice is needed. For this to be effective, the attendance officer needs to keep other staff continually informed and involved.
Working with new staff and supply teachers
In addition to all of the above, the attendance officer should be mindful of the differing needs of staff. For example, newly and recently qualified teachers, as well as supply teachers and cover supervisors, will need more support in order to understand and implement the school’s attendance policies and procedures. They may also need further training in order to develop the skills required to manage attendance and punctuality, including having conversations with parents and external agencies.
The attendance officer should try to make time to speak to new staff members at the beginning of the year or term. It is important that this is built into an annual routine of updating and refreshing existing staff, whilst checking for gaps in knowledge and providing induction for those completely new to the system.
A mentor or line manager assigned to a new member of staff might also be able to help with this, ensuring that it is timed appropriately with other induction activities. However, it is beneficial that you have a chance to meet a new member of staff, introduce yourself and reassure them that they can approach you with any concerns or questions they may have.
“Whether it’s a new member of staff, supply staff or colleagues you have known for a while, be prepared to receive advice as well as to give it”
The attendance officer should try to see any new supply teachers at the start of the day to run through the school policy and how things work. Ideally, they should try to check back with them after form time or the first lesson to see how they’re getting on with completing the register and tackling lateness.
In practice, this may be difficult to carry out and an alternative system may need to be put in place for short-term emergency cover. In these cases, supply teachers may benefit from a ‘cheat-sheet’ – perhaps in the form of a flowchart – for managing attendance and punctuality. This quickly sets out what the teacher needs to do, how to use the systems and who to go to for help.
It may also help to have a ‘work around’ for supply teachers who can’t access or understand school systems. For example, a paper-based register may be best so long as office staff can quickly input the marks into the electronic system.
Be prepared to listen
Whether it’s a new member of staff, supply staff or colleagues you have known for a while, be prepared to receive advice as well as to give it. Not all advice from others will be good, of course, and so the officer will need to be discerning. If we try to heed all the advice that is given to us, we’d quickly get bogged down with too many ideas that we couldn’t possibly hope to put into practice.
However, throughout this series of articles, I have emphasised the importance of two-way communication. Being prepared to listen to the difficulties members of staff have had or suggestions they make for change is crucial.