Data, used effectively, is one of the most important tools when it comes to improving attendance. However, it can also be intimidating and overwhelming. Victoria Franklin provides attendance officers with some practical ideas to make data manageable and informative.
- Familiarise yourself with your information management system and ask for training if you need it.
- Produce whole-school data and use it to check out impressions you have.
- When issues have been identified and isolated, devise strategies to address them.
Data is one of the most useful tools to support and enhance your work as an attendance officer.
I want to break down some of the myths and barriers and show how understanding data and the role it plays is essential to improving practice. Effective data management helps you deploy resources where they are needed and improve whole-school attendance.
The abstract nature of data allows the attendance officer to take a step back and be reflective. It provides a starting point and a base to build on. Use of comparative data tells the story of your school and it can predict future direction and help you decide next steps. Finally, it is a good indicator of the health of an organisation. With so many uses, its benefits cannot be understated.
How well do you know your data?
Absence data is published three times a year by the DfE at http://bit.ly/1gUcqFr. In March, May and October, the data is broken down into overall and persistent absence, reasons for absence and absence by different groups.
It is important that you are aware of how your school compares. Using the toolkit Checklist – How well do you know your data? can help you find out. Current available data is taken from DfE pupil absence Term 1-4 2016/2017 and the next release is in March 2018.
Take time to find your way around the school information management system (IMS) used to track and monitor attendance. Find out its capacity and ask for training if you need it. Most IMS have help desks or online training webinars. Setting aside time to explore this is seen as work and is linked to improving your own effectiveness.
Producing whole-school level data
Your work makes more sense if it is put into context and you have an understanding of how it fits into priorities for the school. Producing whole-school data and having knowledge of the bigger picture helps you understand what the particular issues are for your school as a whole. It may be the data backs up what you thought was happening with attendance but it can also bring surprises.
An example of this is requests for leave of absence for holidays in term time. Whilst visiting some schools, colleagues reported an increase in this type of absence but this is often based on impression due to the number of requests received at a given time. The data reports, when produced, actually showed a reduction in requests compared to the same time the previous year.
Whole-school data is essential for finding out characteristics of absence. For example:
- who it is that does not attend
- which groups/types of student it is
- what levels and type of absence are most apparent.
Once you have this information, you can begin to look at whole-school strategies for specific areas and types of absence.
Types of report you can create include the following:
- A whole-school attendance report from the start of the academic year to date –this is your base line.
- The same report using the time frame term-by-term – this is the journey of how the school got to its current position.
- A comparative report over a two- to three-year period – this tells the school story.
These types of data reports should be produced for overall whole-school attendance and for overall whole-school reasons for absence. This is also known as the code report. This helps us to look at variations between year groups and investigate why they exist.
Other useful whole-school data reports looking at attendance by days in the week or at morning/afternoon attendance can help pinpoint areas for action.
Understanding what the data means and acting on it
It is vital that the data is the best it can be so that it gives you a true picture of where work should be targeted. Spend time checking registers, flagging up wrong or inconsistent marking and clearing absences. This is sometimes referred to as ‘housekeeping’.
During this process there are four stages to consider:
- Finding out what.
- Finding out why.
- Finding out who.
- Taking action.
Two case studies illustrate this process in practice.
Case study 1
The AM/PM attendance report produced at a secondary school shed light on an area of practice that needed to be more robust. The school was concerned about lower levels of attendance being shown in the afternoon.
On deeper analysis, it showed that not only were students missing lessons in the afternoon, but many had missed lessons from much earlier in the day and had been sent home by first aid staff. More challenge to students and better communication resulted in less lost learning.
Case study 2
By looking at a ‘sessions in week’ report, a primary school found that Fridays were the least well-attended day of the week with parents removing students for long weekend breaks. A decision was made to move all the reward activities in and out of school to a Friday and effect a change in culture amongst the community.
Producing student level reports
Once you have a picture of where the main issues lie for your school, you can generate data reports to show which students are behind high levels of absence or patterns of absence and plan appropriate actions.
These reports will give you information about whether it’s an issue for a small or large number of students or whether, as in some situations, it is endemic across the school, which points to a cultural issue and needs addressing as such.
Some colleagues may feel that attendance is being approached the wrong way round and are used to always starting at student level with lists of students with a certain percentage attendance. I would point out thattaking this approach can be overwhelming, lacks focus and does not give insight into the bigger picture.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is it I want to know/find out about?
- Why do I need to know this?
- What am I going to do with the information?
Some data reports are for investigating, some are for identifying and some are for monitoring. By taking a more focused approach driven by data, attendance officers can ensure that time, energy and resources are targeted where they are needed most and used in the most effective way.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:
About the author
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.