It is a conversation we are continually engaging in with schools as a National Tutoring Programme Tuition Partner at Tute Education: issues with attendance are a growing concern throughout the education sector in the wake of the pandemic. Reports this week suggest this is a growing issue with FFT Education Datalab estimates indicating that 86,000 children were “severely absent” in the Autumn term of 2021, with pupils with special educational needs and an EHCP many times more likely to be absent.
Whilst it has been acknowledged that absences as a result of Covid-19 are unavoidable, there is increasing concern that persistent absence is having a severe impact on students’ education and outcomes. As all teachers know, both blocks of absence and inconsistent or patchy attendance are detrimental to progress and a lack of continuity in learning hinders students’ attainment.
The effects of poor attendance may be clear, but what can be done to improve student attendance is often less so and strategies vary locally and nationally. However, last month, the DFE updated its guidance on improving school attendance. This guidance is informed by engagement with schools who have significantly reduced their persistent absence levels, teachers’ standards, Ofsted’s school inspection handbook and other DfE statutory and non-statutory guidance. Below are some key takeaways we at Tute Education would like to share:
- High expectations: At all levels, for students, teachers, school leaders and the wider communities of schools, maintaining high expectations for attendance and punctuality are key. We not only need to reinforce expectations persistently, but also are advised to emphasise the importance and impact of attendance on attainment. To this end, helping students to see the progression of their learning, promoting what comes next and how lessons link together sequentially can help to reinforce the importance of attendance.
- Focus on the individual: Whilst issues with attendance are a common concern, causes are not uniform. Following up on absence and lateness with students to identify barriers and reasons for absence is critical. Including parents and carers in resolving these issues is often key and considering the individual needs and vulnerabilities of pupils should also inform the strategies deployed. Some students may benefit from buddy support or one to one input, others may require support with uniform, transport, wake up routines or emotional wellbeing. Others might require a more bespoke action plan to remove barriers. Daily or weekly check-ins to review progress and the impact of support and maintaining regular contact with families to discuss progress can all be critical strategies.
- Praise progress: Have systems of reward and praise to encourage students both in their learning and their attendance. This applies to all students, providing tailored praise and encouragement when pupils attend and arrive on time will reinforce expectations unilaterally and collectively, fostering a positive learning environment. Being sure to welcome pupils back following an absence, letting them know it’s great to have them in class and providing good catch-up support to build confidence and bridge gaps can all help to improve attendance.
Improving student attendance must be a collective goal in education. Our impacts as schools, teachers, tutors, and mentors are muted if we do not get to ‘see’ our students. Collaborative working in addressing the issues leading to poor attendance is critical in mitigating the impact of lost learning, preventing further gaps forming and maximising progress for our students.