Many educators believe that school attendance is essential to a child’s academic and social development. They want all their pupils to have the chance to reach their full potential and this can only be done through giving them as many opportunities to learn as possible. But attendance continues to be a concern for a number of UK schools, where levels are dropping below national averages. So what can be done to improve things? We spoke to a number of schools who shared their useful experiences of how they managed to improve attendance.
Large primary school in Lewisham
Rushey Green Primary School in Lewisham has a number of initiatives to improve overall attendance rates and tackle persistent absence.
An 'attendance cup' is awarded to the class with the highest attendance rate every week. During a weekly whole-school assembly, the deputy headteacher uses an interactive whiteboard to display an attendance bar chart and reveal the winning class.
She told us that children respond well to seeing the bar for their class rise on the big screen, and the initiative has had a greater impact than individual prizes, as children don’t want to let their classmates down.
Attendance tables and weekly winners are also included in the school’s newsletters to parents and displayed on the school's website.
The school has introduced a walking bus for children who live within 30 minutes of the school to improve attendance and punctuality. Teaching assistants are paid to collect children from their homes on foot every day.
According to the headteacher, this strategy has been particularly effective at improving attendance among pupils whose parents are unable to accompany them to school due to health issues or because they have younger children to look after.
Internal attendance panels
As the school no longer receives support from the local authority (LA) education welfare service, the deputy headteacher has taken responsibility for working with parents to address persistent absence.
The school has introduced its own internal attendance panel hearings, which parents are asked to attend when their child’s attendance drops below 96%.
The deputy headteacher told us that these meetings have proved to be effective in combating long-term attendance issues, and so far the school has only resorted to using fixed penalty notices on two occasions.
Medium-size primary school in Lancashire
The Lancashire Grid for Learning (LGfL) has published a case study on how Hillside Community Primary School raised attendance.
The school wanted to address historically poor attendance and raise the profile of good attendance among parents to enable them to understand the value of education.
It has implemented a number of initiatives to improve attendance, including:
- Employing a full-time learning mentor with day-to-day responsibility for attendance
- Creating a whole-school attendance point system that is shared at the weekly assembly
- Rewarding 100% attendance on a termly basis
- Implementing a 'traffic light' letter system to alert parents as to whether their child is on track
- Developing a creative curriculum led by pupil voice to engage pupils
Large primary school in Hackney
In an article in Headteacher Update, Nadia Jarana explains what strategies were used to boost attendance when she was the deputy headteacher of Orchard Primary School.
These included motivating disengaged pupils by:
- Running high-profile assemblies where weekly prizes were awarded for 100% attendance
- Using pupil premium funding to run booster classes and a homework club
- Delivering 'attendance mentoring sessions' that focused on the impact of low attendance on friendships and achievement
The school engaged parents by:
- Holding regular coffee mornings to communicate the importance of school attendance
- Issuing a fortnightly attendance notice that included facts about the impact of low attendance and praised individuals who had improved their attendance
- Implementing rigorous procedures for calling home on the first day of absence
- Running a walking bus
- Posting notices in local doctors' surgeries encouraging parents to make appointments outside school hours
Have your own attendance-boosting strategies to share? Contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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