11th December 2009 at 00:00
We are seeing increasing numbers of unauthorised pupil absences in my school. Can you suggest ways I can tackle the problem

You are not alone in facing increased absence levels. According to Government figures released in October, the truancy rate is currently the highest it has ever been.

One tried and tested approach you could take is to introduce an element of competition, such as having attendance charts displayed in classrooms, with prizes for those pupils with the best attendance record.

A group of schools in Bradford tackled poor attendance by introducing a traffic light scheme. Parents were informed that their child's attendance would be monitored over a four-week period and followed up according to their record.

At the end of the four weeks, pupils who had achieved more than 89 per cent attendance took home a green letter of congratulation. Those achieving 80 to 89 per cent attendance took home an amber letter, setting out clear targets for improvement during an extended monitoring period. Pupils who had attended school for less than 80 per cent of the time took home a red letter, stressing the importance of regular attendance and setting appropriate targets.

After the extended monitoring period had ended, pupils who met their targets were congratulated and their cases closed. Those who failed to meet targets were called in for interview and continued to be closely monitored.

If all the measures failed, then the school began the process of prosecuting parents. As a result of the scheme, the overall attendance level improved by 3 per cent.

Fairbridge, a charity that works with young people, suggests that pupils may play truant for complex and varied reasons. It suggests that focusing on disciplinary solutions or holding parents to account is not effective in all cases. Young people who skip school can lack long-term aspirations, motivation and confidence, says the charity. These pupils also tend to struggle to engage with the learning styles frequently employed in formal education.

It suggests that to tackle truancy effectively, schools need to complement formal education with informal education. To this end, the charity offers young people a programme of structured activities designed to promote confidence and self-esteem in partnerships with schools.

Ofsted also provides extensive guidance on improving attendance, including:

- Ensuring an efficient registration system is in place.

- Taking registers throughout the day.

- Using data to identify absence patterns associated with particular lessons, teachers, times of day and pupils.

- Introducing an electronic registration system to provide more accurate attendance monitoring.

- Having a clear system for dealing with poor attendance.

- Asking form tutors, pastoral heads or an educational welfare officer to follow up absenteeism with parents directly.

- Employing an administrative officer to make contact with parents on the first day of absence.

- Considering home visits to follow up on attendance issues

Fe McKerrell is a behaviour and attendance expert at The Key, an independent service for school leaders. www.usethekey.org.uk.

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