When working on school attendance we can be focused on schools figures and the absence of individual children. This is important, of course, but we also need to consider how we respond to trends and patterns. Joanne Sierzega from CSAWS explains what we might do.
- Interventions can be drawn from a programme but should be flexible and amended to the needs of the group.
- A ‘late gate’ might be put into operation to address punctuality.
- Where there is an attendance problem across the school, a ‘blitz’ might be appropriate.
It’s important that schools identify concerning trends and patterns and then deliver appropriate interventions to try and address these. They can be helped to do this by working with a consultancy or welfare service. Whether they do it alone, in conjunction with another school or by commissioning a consultancy, below are some examples of the interventions they can try.
It can be appropriate to run interventions that focus on particular groups of pupils. For example, this might be a group of Year 6 boys, a group of Year 8 girls or a group of Year 10 students. A bespoke programme might be drawn up with the group in mind, depending on the age of the children and the particular issues that there are.
It is important, however, that although you work to a programme, there is flexibility built in too. Other issues might come up in group discussion and may be raised by the children and young people.
For example, a Year 7 attendance package might include:
- getting to know you…getting to now me
- exploring the law
- get organised – get up and go
- good reasons, tall excuses and tales
- bright ideas; your future.
Through work such as this, you should be able to demonstrate improved attendance for those taking part. It’s also an opportunity to capture and understand the children and young people’s experiences and recommend and put into place practical solutions to address specific barriers.
A small group of students who had been identified as having low attendance required group work sessions. The group consisted of Year 7 students and was particularly successful in helping the students organise their homework.
During the group work, the students had their registration certificates explained so that they had a better understanding of what authorised and unauthorised absences look like, what their percentages mean and how different codes are used. During one of the sessions, there was a focus on legal processes and the students were engaged by looking at the consequences of poor school attendance. This activity certainly got the groups talking and interested!
One-to-one direct work
You might identify several individual students within a vulnerable group or year group who have similar reasons for absence or who are facing particular challenges accessing school and here, group work would not be appropriate.
In these situations, a series of one-to-one direct work sessions can work better. One example might be one-to-one sessions for pupils experiencing anxiety around school attendance. These sessions might include:
- strategies for managing anxiety
- creating an action plan on how to achieve a preferred future
- producing resources and interventions to support the child/young person’s attendance.
CSAWS’ own evaluations have shown that these sessions can result in the improved attendance of individual students or can stop the decline in attendance. Feedback from schools, parents and students has been positive.
One example was with a group of students who were carers for their parents with physical and mental illnesses. The one-to-one sessions were followed up with visits to the home. During these, support and advice was given to both the parent and the child. This enabled a positive relationship to develop between the attendance officer, the parents and the students, which helped bridge the gap between home and school and enabled the child to access education while feeling supported.
Where a large number of children are arriving late for school, a ‘late gate’ approach might be taken. The first step is to write to all parents, explaining about concerns surrounding punctuality. This letter highlights the importance of being on time and the actions the school is intending to take.
This might include selected staff (and/or external support such as consultancy staff) meeting parents and students arriving late. They then speak to the parents or students, hand out a leaflet and record reasons for the late arrival. This is followed up by a check on those children who arrived late to see if this is part of an attendance pattern. Where there is a pattern, then a letter is sent home that reflects on the overall pattern.
This approach can:
- raise the profile of punctuality and the importance of being on time
- clarify and reinforce times of the school day and the expectations for punctual arrival
- create a conversation with individual parents where there are issues impacting on punctuality
- improve punctuality over the period of the initiative
- have more of an impact with the initial letter and follow-up actions than when undertaken with only the recording of late arrivals on the day.
This approach does not address entrenched persistent lateness and needs to be used alongside a school’s escalating approach and casework interventions.
“ Blitz days raise the profile of attendance and the importance of making contact when children are absent ”
Where it is identified that there is either a disproportionate amount of absence on a particular day or a concern about parents not making contact with school to give reasons for absence, then you might undertake an ‘attendance blitz’.
An initial letter can be sent to all parents explaining the importance of both regular attendance and regular communication when children are absent. The letter explains that, in the coming weeks, attendance blitz days will be taking place, where home visits will be undertaken for every child who is absent on an allocated day or for every child who is absent with no contact.
Staff should be made available on agreed days to undertake these home visits and letters are left at addresses where there is no response. These blitz days raise the profile of attendance and the importance of making contact when children are absent. They can also highlight reasons for absence that were previously unknown.
Experience suggests that the majority of children return to school the following day after receiving a visit and that there is improved attendance over the period of the initiative.
These are a small selection of the different strategies that can be used to respond to particular patterns in absence. Targeted letters, incentives, parent groups, parent meetings and attendance panels are other strategies that can be used and are recommended.
The key to addressing concerns about attendance patterns or absence levels for groups of children has three stages:
- Undertake regular data analysis to identify the issues clearly and early.
- Identify key staff to select and implement interventions.
- Evaluate the impact interventions have had.
Each of these three stages should be carefully recorded and built upon to provide a more strategic approach to attendance. However, they must also be part of a whole-school ethos of supporting attendance and should work alongside the school’s escalating approach.
The approaches and strategies described in this article have all been tried and tested by CSAWS’ attendance and welfare officers who provide services to support schools. CSAWS stands for Central School Attendance and Welfare Service and you can find out more information about them by contacting Joanne directly (Jsierzega@csaws.co.uk) or through the CSAWS website: www.csaws.co.uk
Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice: