Improving sixth form attendance

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The raising of the participation age has had an impact on provision for older students. This can place additional pressure on those responsible for the sixth form. In this article, Victoria Franklin provides practical advice for schools.

Summary

  • Students can have problems fitting in if they move between settings.
  • Schools should consider their transition and induction arrangements.
  • A shared approach across the school is important for tackling sixth form attendance.

Post-16 (or sixth form) provision has undergone a huge transformation over recent years. The biggest single factor has been the raising of the participation age through the Education and Skills Act 2008 which was implemented in 2014. It placed a duty on all young people to participate in education and training until their 18th birthday.

Section 11 of the Act placed a duty on sixth forms to promote good attendance and support young people to fulfil their duty and Section 13 placed a duty on sixth forms to inform the local authority about any young person who leaves education before completion.

The driver behind this change was to have a better qualified and skilled workforce to compete in the global market economy and match the skills sets of other nations. Apprenticeships were considered an alternative option for some students, whilst others chose a route of academic study. A significant cohort of young people did not want to follow either of these paths and some stayed on in the school sixth form setting to pursue alternative courses.

The impact of the changes

The impact of remodelling led to some sixth form closures due to smaller numbers of students remaining in the school setting and increased numbers of dedicated sixth form colleges offering a wider range of courses. In some cases, sixth forms amalgamated with other local schools. Alongside this, a school rebuilding programme had been undertaken, with new schools offering education from 11–16 only.

Students affected by these changes sometimes experienced problems ‘fitting in’ to an existing peer group of a school with an established sixth form, and students who were required to move around different school sites in addition to the above reported historical rivalry or hostility.

These factors can impact on retention and attendance. Some students make an active choice to study at a dedicated sixth form college and some schools have found that as a result, the profile of the students remaining on in school sixth forms has changed, with the school provision sometimes appearing to be the default position when a student is unclear about choices.

“Effective transition and induction work underpin successful engagement”

Establishing early attendance patterns

Key to ensuring good attendance is the culture, expectation and leadership of the provision. This needs to be supported by robust procedures, efficient monitoring and follow-up of attendance issues. Effective transition and induction work underpin successful engagement.

Transition

Transition work should begin early in Key Stage 4 with opportunities for students to experience sixth form life and the courses on offer. Independent advice and guidance must be made available to all students to secure correct choices.

To ensure effective transition you might:

  • offer a taster programme with the opportunity to attend lessons in several different subjects
  • enable students to become a sixth former for a few days in term six
  • arrange sixth form student visits and presentations to tutor groups in Year 10 and Year 11
  • offer a sixth form Open Evening to Year 10 and Year 11 students.

Establishing good links with pastoral staff and support staff lower down the school can help put these arrangements into practice.

Induction

Once students have selected the sixth form as their choice, then this might be followed up with a range of activities designed to confirm and consolidate their choice.

To ensure effective induction you might:

  • interview students to check and confirm that the choice is the right one with regard to both the setting and the course
  • have an agreement signed up to by students, parents and the school which includes a statement about attendance expectations
  • organise a team-building event with support from an outside organisation
  • hold a student/parent consultation meeting within the first term.

Having set and shared the expectations, the attendance officer will then need to keep an eye on how it works in practice.

Monitoring and tracking attendance

A common dilemma in sixth form is what approach to take with student attendance and where to put boundaries whilst acknowledging student independence and responsibility. It is important not to lose rigour just because it is sixth form. Safeguarding duties must be met and evidenced.

Registration periods should have a purpose other than for ascertaining if students are in school. Students need to feel it is worth their while coming into school for this as well as lessons. You might want to plan the content of these sessions and share the time-
table with students.

You might include:

  • information about well-being and counselling support
  • input from different speakers
  • information about volunteering opportunities
  • updates on local jobs available
  • information about different universities and opportunities to visit
  • information about apprenticeships.

Follow up with both parents and students where attendance for registration is of concern. This reinforces high expectation and the serious approach taken to safeguarding, rather than just for lesson attendance.

A shared approach

Promoting good attendance should be a whole-sixth form approach and you  might consider:

  • using a free Friday registration period for alternate meetings with sixth form tutors to discuss student issues such as attendance and welfare
  • senior sixth form team, administration and support staff meetings to discuss academic support and attainment
  • circulating attendance data reports before meetings, showing levels of attendance and reasons for absence
  • sharing half term attendance reports with students and parents
  • a staged intervention procedure for addressing attendance concern, including:
  • a one-to-one conversation with the student
  • calls and emails to parents
  • letters and meetings.

Information should be shared across the whole community via regular production of data reports and timetabled meetings to discuss findings, any concerns and to plan interventions.

External factors in sixth form attendance

Department for Education

The DfE does not collect absence statistics for sixth form students and schools are not obliged to use national absence codes when recording absence of this age group. However, establishing sound procedures and analysing reasons why students do not attend assists the self-evaluation process and development of the organisation. Sixth forms do have to report on students who leave education before their 18th birthday and the destinations of all students.

Ofsted

The current inspection process sets out what inspectors are looking for when they visit a sixth form provision and consider how well the statement below is met and make a judgement:

“Learners develop personal, social, employability and independent learning skills and achieve high levels of punctuality, attendance and conduct, including through the contribution of non-qualification or enrichment activities and/or work experience”.

A new framework for inspection will be implemented in September 2019 and the proposal for sixth form is likely to be judged as follows:

1.   The effectiveness of the arrangements for safeguarding young people will be reflected in the main judgement for the school.

2.   Through observations of teaching and training activities, and in discussions with students, teachers, support staff and employers, inspectors will consider how well students achieve high levels of punctuality and attendance.

Toolkit

Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

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About Author

Victoria Franklin

Victoria Franklin is a qualified social worker with more than 25 years’ experience working in education settings. She is currently a senior education welfare consultant working across all phases of education. Victoria is the President of the National Association of Support Workers in Education (NASWE) and delivers national training on a wide range of attendance matters. Victoriafranklin4@virginmedia.com

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