The majority of students who attend my special school will have had erratic attendance patterns throughout their recent educational histories. These have been as a result of exclusions (both fixed-term and permanent), truancy, parents keeping children away from school and family difficulties, in addition to time spent out of lessons because of misbehaviour.
All this impacts on each child’s educational progress, which then compounds difficulties that they may already have.
Pupils who have suffered prolonged periods of non-attendance obviously find it difficult to return to the expectations of a classroom setting for a variety of reasons, including loss of habit, fear of the work or expectations of further conflict or failure.
So how do you turn it around?
At my school, we have taken a personalised approach to address absence, taking some of our students from 70 per cent attendance to 100 per cent in just one term.
How? It’s a three-step process.
Establish a clear policy
Every school must have an attendance policy. This must be the tool that every member of staff, not just the attendance team, follows. It should detail all aspects of attendance, from guidance on reasons why students choose not to attend school (or can’t attend) to the process to be followed when a student is absent. It will ensure a consistent and informed approach across all staff.
Support is made available to families where attendance is a major issue through the school attendance officer, as well as through our Safer Schools Officer. Staff work alongside families to engage the pupil and encourage increased attendance. This may initially take a basic, practical approach and involve early morning wake-up calls, home visits and sometimes collection from and transportation to the school.
However, intensive home support has to be limited to allow families to develop their own coping strategies, for which the school also offers support. Working with them to find their own solutions is key. This is done consistently by all, including teaching staff.
Staff are reminded that registers are a legal document and must be completed within the stipulated time. Attendance is then recorded and shared with all staff each day. This allows the pastoral staff to set targets for students and continue to work with families and students through attendance meetings and interventions if necessary.
In addition, many of our pupils and some parents or carers will not view education as valuable and will not habitually see the need to attend school on a regular basis. As an academy, we have meetings with parents to set attendance targets and, for some, there will be a daily phone call and home visit. This holds the home to account for attendance.