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 their children away from school and family difficulties, in addition to time out of lessons for misbehaviour.
All this clearly impacts on each child’s educational progress, which then compounds any difficulties 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 and fear of the work or expectations of further conflict or failure.
So how do you turn it around?
At my school, we decided to take a personalised approach to address absence and took some students from 70 per cent attendance to 100 per cent in just one term.
How? It’s a three-step process.
1. 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.
2. Offer support
Support is made available to families where attendance is a major issue through the attendance officer, as well as support through our Safer Schools Officer. Staff will work alongside the home 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 and transporting 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. We also have to build resilience in the student. Working with them to find their own solutions is key. This is done consistently by all, including teaching staff.
3. Proactive engagement for all
Staff are reminded that registers are a legal document and must be completed within the stipulated time. Attendance is then recorded for monitoring and reporting purposes 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.
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.
As part of the three steps, here are some of the strategies we have in place.
• Daily phone calls are made every morning by the attendance lead to make contact with parents/carers
• Regular home visits are made in order to identify early attendance issues and allow for problems to be tackled as they arise
• Letters are hand delivered when there has been no response from either telephone calls or home visits
• There are reward incentives for students achieving 95 per cent attendance or above
• Tailor made timetables are put in place for students who are feeling anxious and apprehensive, including a curriculum that is flexible, relevant and engages their interest
• We have restart programmes for those students that have been out of education for some time, for example through long-term sickness
• We have fortnightly meetings as an SLT to discuss key persistent non-attenders, as well as daily briefings.