Can you see the wood from the trees?

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Managing attendance data in schools

Using attendance data to support attendance

Supporting attendance during the pandemic has been challenging and it can be difficult to avoid the trap of believing that absence from school is linked to Covid-19 for all students.

Over recent weeks I have been encouraging schools to use their data more strategically to look at the impact Covid-19 has had on specific children rather than just assuming that because they may have had some Covid illness this is the main reason for them to be persistently absent (PA).

I often here “they had Covid” and my question back is always “for how long, and how much time have they had self-isolating or for any other reason”. This can often be met with looks of consternation and a deeper delve into the data is then needed.

Most attendance systems allow schools to break down data by code AND by sub-code, by doing this you can then look at what % (or number of sessions) of absence are due to Covid-19 (assuming the school has used the I02 sub-code) and how much is due to other forms of absence.

We’ve then supported the schools to “sort the wood from the tree’s” – which children are considered persistently absent purely because they have had Covid illness, and which are persistently absent for other reasons.

We do this for a number of reasons:

  1. It prevents overwhelm – often schools are concerned about how high the PA levels are and being able to separate Covid PA from other PA helps us to identify where the PA would sit, Covid aside.
  2. It prevents letters going home to parents where their children have been absent due to Covid-19 illness, and they have had to follow Government guidance about how long their child has to remain absent for.
  3. It allows us to identify where children have had holidays during term time (whether authorised or not) and this has impacted on attendance. In these circumstances, I advise schools to use their exceptional leave letters to address absence and where necessary penalty notices are used to discourage absence and where holidays are high, we can look at other measures to support a reduction in this moving forward.
  4. We can analyse by unauthorised lateness code – again, we encourage schools to address this with parents in a different way to those who have large amounts of illness.
  5. And finally, we can look at children with high levels of absence for illness, some of which will be genuine, and some will require further investigation and conversation with parents. This supports schools to ensure that children with medical needs and ongoing illness are identified and that appropriate medical needs plans are in place whilst working with other parents to address absences which may be for other reasons e.g., parental or child anxiety, over-cautiousness, or unmet medical needs.

This helps us identify which families we need to work with to ensure their children can attend school as often as possible and gives school staff a sense of control over their data – allowing them to have a focus on where it is needed and to address any concerns early without the feeling of overwhelm.

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