The attendance officer and school business manager working together

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It can be beneficial for the school business manager (SBM) to share a strategic lead on attendance, even when there is an attendance officer in post. Victoria Franklin considers the relationship and interviews an SBM and an attendance officer to find out how they’ve made it work.

Summary

  • An increased recognition of the importance of attendance makes the involvement of the SBM a valuable opportunity.
  • The SBM can provide a strategic overview that feeds into the operational work of the attendance officer.
  • Mutual trust, delegation and clarity of role are important features of a successful relationship between the SBM and attendance officer.

Reducing overall and persistent absence has been a priority for successive government administrations and the focus of Ofsted inspection for some years. This, together with strong links to the safeguarding agenda, has driven attendance higher up the list of key priorities for a school.

Historically, attendance matters were frequently viewed as belonging solely with the pastoral team and the administrative role was limited to register checking and calling parents of students not registered at school. The attendance officer may have been appointed because of a pastoral/social care background.  

With the demand for a new approach including systematic data collection, improved analysis and effective monitoring, the role of the school business manager (SBM) often has an increasingly high profile in the management of attendance. This then enables resources to be targeted efficiently and attendance improved. 

The SBM’s crucial role

The attendance role increasingly involves sharing key responsibilities and actions with an administration team. With attendance part of the school development plan, the skills of the SBM are of the greatest importance and are clearly beneficial when it comes to the improvement of attendance.

The SBM must be able to: 

  • take a strategic approach and hold a strategic vision in order to see the bigger picture
  • lead, manage and develop strong working relationships across senior leadership, administration and support staff
  • be solution-focused and have an eye for detail, including quality assurance
  • motivate, challenge and grasp opportunties to make things happen
  • ensure efficiency and effectiveness of non-teaching staff
  • work to drive school improvement
  • possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

Working alongside the attendance officer, these skills can be hugely beneficial in ensuring that attendance aims and objectives are met.

A strategic overview

The attendance officer role has become a specialist one that requires a greater depth of knowledge. They need to be clear about the purpose of the role and how it aligns with the key priorities for the school, particularly in relation to raising attendance. The attendance officer needs to understand data and what function this plays in driving improvement. 

The leadership and management skills of the school business manager meet these developmental and knowledge-based demands of the attendance role perfectly. The SBM has the task of challenging practice and changing direction if things are not working effectively and outcomes are not being met.

So, how do the two roles work together in practice?

To illustrate this type of  supportive working relationship, Helen Godfrey (academy business manager) and Sue Harvey (attendance officer) agreed to be interviewed. Helen and Sue are members of staff at Fishponds Church of England Academy in East Bristol.

The attendance team at Fishponds has been remodelled to meet school development priorities for attendance, with Helen and Sue working together. By developing this working relationship, Fishponds C of E Academy has raised attendance and reduced persistent absence levels. 

The academy business manager 

Helen, how long have you held the strategic lead for attendance matters and how did this evolve?

I am a member of the senior leadership team (SLT) with knowledge of all the school priorities and have held the strategic lead for attendance for 18 months. The vice principal had held the role previously but was on maternity leave. As I have a detailed knowledge of SIMS (the school information management system) and exceptional organisational skills, it felt correct for the role to come to the business manager.

Can you describe the functions of your role as an academy business manager and attendance lead?

I believe the role sits with a school business manager as the SBM role involves collating and extracting information. It demands a higher level of thinking; a strategic one. The management of everything has financial implications and I hold that wider view.

I provide detailed attendance reports to other members of the SLT on a weekly basis and to the governors. I produce an attendance action plan each year based on the previous year’s data and ensure this links to the school development plan/school improvement agenda which, in turn, links to the wider priorities of the DBAT (Diocese of Bristol Academies Trust).

How does this fit in with the other responsibilities of a school/academy business manager?

It’s a big task, but raising attendance must be a priority – it affects the outcomes of our children if they’re not here. It is important to have the ability to make decisions that are listened to.

Various models of approach to attendance management in the school have been tried in the past. Can you describe how the current model came about?

The model we had in place was not working as there was no evidence of improvement. The organisation and structure had to change. Halfway through the school year, although not an ideal time, a set of circumstances arose, and I spotted an opportunity to make changes. I then spent the rest of the academic year getting ready for implementation. Having a greater strategic role was a key part of the new model we adopted.

What are the key ingredients for a successful working relationship between a school/academy business manager and an attendance officer?

Mutual trust is important, as is the delegation and separation of the roles. It is strategic versus operational and this differentiation is important as roles and thinking can become confused and effectiveness compromised.

The attendance officer 

Suzanne, how long have you held the role of attendance officer and how did this evolve?

I have held the role for 10 months in this school but previously held several roles in secondary schools ranging from PA to the headteacher, HR manager, clerk to governors, office manager and team manager for inclusion. The attendance role here has developed as administrative and other opportunities have become available. 

Do you have any additional responsibilities that are not related to attendance matters?

I also deal with admissions and operational daily administration and administration of trips.  

How do you see the role of the attendance officer and the school/academy business manager?

Because of my background, I understand both sides of the school community. It is essential to understand how a school is run and what data the headteacher and governors need, for example. You must also be mindful of what students and families are experiencing; trauma/attachment training has helped with understanding that. I can put this into practice now by working with parents and students to help them maximise their potential and get the best outcomes.

What are the key ingredients for a successful working relationship between a school/academy business manager and an attendance officer?

You must have a shared interest and a strong understanding about the importance of attendance. Regular meetings between the attendance officer and the school business manager are essential to share data and information about students.

Role differentiation is also important. Helen invites me to present to the SLT and this raises the profile of the attendance officer role. I also attend the vulnerable students group meeting. Consistency and challenge should always be present. It helps that we both share attention to detail.

Thank you to Debbie Coker, headteacher at Fishponds C of E Academy, Helen Godfrey, academy business manager and Suzanne Harvey, attendance officer for their time in preparing for this article.

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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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