A recent report from Ofsted, ‘Good attendance: listen, understand, empathise and support’, looks at a variety of aspects related to student attendance and how schools can go about overcoming the obstacles they are currently facing.
Whilst Ofsted recognized Covid cases and anxieties surrounding the pandemic, as two of the core contributors to high levels of absence, it also says that other reasons for absences predate the pandemic and continue to impact students’ attendance.
Oftsted emphasizes the importance of schools’ being able to ‘listen, understand, emphasise and support’ parents, but making sure that they do not ‘tolerate’ low attendance. In the report, Oftsted identified 7 main approaches that successful schools have adopted when securing good attendance and tackling persistent absence.
- Communicating high expectations
The report highlights the value of having high expectations for each and every pupil’s attendance at school, and communicating these clearly, strongly and consistently to parents and students. This may include expectations being communicated as soon as the child joins the school. For example, successful schools with nurseries explained that once the child has a place, they are expected to attend.
2. School leaders setting a positive tone
In the report, some head teachers spoke about the importance of school leaders having a constructive presence within the school, which included being a positive face in the forefront, such as in the playground or at the gates at the start of the day. The emphasis was on the students’ and parents’ first interaction of the day being a positive one (such as, ‘Good Morning’ and a smile) rather than a negative one (such as, ‘Why are you late?’)
3. Explaining why good attendance is important
According to Ofsted, it is essential that schools take the time to explain why good attendance is important, as the link is not always automatically made between attendance, achievement and future goals. For example, when teaching students about careers or being a good citizen, successful schools would link these back to the importance of attendance.
4. Listening to parents
Schools should try to listen carefully to parents in order to get to the bottom of why their children are not attending, which then allows the school the opportunity to act accordingly. Acting accordingly may mean challenging parents or offering support where needed. By listening, one head teacher found out that when parents were running late in the mornings, they kept the children off for the whole day, as they were too embarrassed to come into school. Once she realized this, she was able to tackle the absences by explaining to parents that it is ‘better for your child to arrive at 9.30am than take the whole day off’.
5. Ensuring attendance is analyzed and recorded
Accurately analyzing and recording attendance enables educational professionals to recognize patterns, such as a student missing a particular day, like a Monday. Recognizing patterns then gives school leaders the opportunity to ask the appropriate questions – Is the absence related to something that is happening at home on the weekend? Is it because a students has a lesson they dislike on that day? As one school leader said, ‘acting swiftly when things start to slide’ is essential in preventing attendance issues becoming stubbornly ingrained.
6. Linking attendance to school curriculum and ethos
Successful leaders do not focus on attendance in isolation, but within the context of the school’s ‘curriculum, ethos, behavior and inclusivity’. Focusing attention onto these areas, by ensuring that ‘pupils don’t want to miss out – the curriculum is so exciting that they know they will miss things if they aren’t here’ and that children ‘feel safe and happy when they come to school’, means that children will have a positive experience of school and want to attend.
7. Not being satisfied by reaching national average
According to Ofsted, successful schools continue to strive for improvement, even once attendance has reached national average – ‘rather they see the process of securing good attendance as an ongoing process that is never finished’. It is therefore essential, as mentioned in the first point, to keep expectations high for your school’s attendance.