How to improve attendance in schools and useful strategies about statistics
It is widely understood that school attendance is directly linked to academic performance. Pupils who have higher attendance records perform better than those who are frequent absentees.
To call the current times challenging when it comes to maintaining good school attendance records is to use a euphemism because current records show to be dramatically worrying. Following the declaration and announcement of the pandemic by WHO (The World Health Organization) in March 2020, despite all the UK government's efforts to keep schools open, we've seen a significant rise in pupils' absences.
School attendance facts
During the periods in which schools are open, too many factors come into play to affect attendance. Pupils are having to quarantine if they have any of the symptoms of Covid-19, until such time that they have a negative result, including high temperature, a cough, changes in sense of taste or smell, a positive test result themselves or when they have been in contact with others with a positive Covid-19 test. Teachers and school staff are having to do the same. To make it worse, contagion is frequent amongst children who are often in need of closer interactions.
Alarming news were reported by the end of 2020, as published by The Guardian in October, "more than 400,000 children in England were off school in one week for coronavirus-related reasons, as the government admitted that "unevenness" in lost learning could affect 2021 exam results.
Weekly attendance statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) estimated that up to 5% of England's 8.3 million state school pupils lost classroom time, including as many as 50,000 with confirmed or suspected cases of Covid-19."
The problem with statistics
Following the startling stats, a new lockdown was introduced in November, and then another followed in January. We are still under the latter. The school attendance stats simply reflect the undulating trajectory of the virus itself which is kept under control by restrictions: the higher the contagion, the higher the number of school absences. It is also incredibly difficult to distinguish between children actively engaged in remote learning from home and children who are perhaps logging in for the odd lesson and then in effect playing truant the rest of the time. To find consistency in the middle of such striking changes to daily life starts to look like an impossible quest.
Plus, there's a daunting sense of being stuck when trying to improve the situation. While attendance soars in periods when schools are open, children's mental health levels and the digital divide, particularly for those on the negative side of it, menace performance achievement when schools are shut.
More recent studies report an increase in student numbers attending school during the current lockdown compared to the first one last year. This is to do with the new measures being more relaxed in terms of who can go to school (for instance, children of more key workers are permitted to attend). However, there's no indication that students won't have to miss out on classroom time due to quarantine when schools will reopen.
While a positive outcome is expected in terms of virus control thanks to all the vaccination programs in place, we cannot be entirely sure as to how long the pandemic will continue to be a threat and affect pupils' attendance.
School attendance matters
In order to keep on top of the numbers, improving attendance safely, should be the main goal of the school reopening strategy. If attendance improves, students' wellbeing will level up, and the digital divide will play a much more peripheral role and have a lesser effect on performance.
So what can be done to improve attendance in schools?
Improving school attendance
Over the last year, we've all learned about the benefits of tracking. When the coronavirus hit the human population, it caught us by surprise, and we had no medical response. We relied on coders and mathematical science to show us the way. Infections were counted, the speed of contagion was calculated, and we all became somewhat obsessed with numbers: how many daily cases, what percentage of infection rate, how many hospitalisations by age group and so forth. Tracking and coding helped because it provided governments with insights and guidance to take informed action. It offered a way for controlling the spread while illustrating how to manipulate the stats to our advantage by diminishing contact.
Tracking numbers is a proven practice to tackle pandemics and other crisis. The same strategy of tracking must be applied to school attendance.
Strategies proven to work for improving attendance statistics
Like for any strategy, the starting point is always to set out defined goals based on the analysis of past achievements.
In the case of school attendance, before setting out to design a plan to improve numbers, the first thing to do is run a thorough assessment of students' attendance records. Then identify the individual student or groups of students who may fall behind or be absent more often. Do you know which students have a greater or lesser support from their parents? Investigate the cause behind each absence and then come up with a remedy.
Let's look more in details at how this can be done.
1. Tracking attendance
Teachers and school leaders should always have an idea of what the levels of attendance are in their school. Behavioural and attendance patterns in daily activities are continually being observed. The classroom teacher is aware of how many students are absent and how many students attend. When it comes to physical presence, it is hard not to notice who's not around. However, to have a clearer picture of the situation and prevent issues from escalating, attendance must be monitored effectively by collecting and recording data.
To help the process, schools can rely on automatic solutions that will keep track of attendance patterns. Guidance from the Department for Education clearly suggests to:
Use clear and consistently applied systems and processes to improve, reward and incentivise attendance and address absences. Make sure these systems are inclusive and appropriate for all pupils.
Attendance in Primary Schools
The long term impacts that truancy and particularly persistent absence may have on a child are not to be underestimated; academic development may be hindered, social integration may become harder, and if this is carried on, progression into a career path in adulthood will be difficult.
According to an estimate by the Local Government Association showed that:
in 2018/19, more than a quarter of a million children in England may have missed out on a formal full-time education which equates to around 2% of the school age population.
As shocking as these figures may sound, we must remember that they were recorded before coronavirus struck, and therefore we must brace ourselves to accept that stats for the year 2020 to 2021 will likely reflect a worse picture and we may never fully know the true extent of absence or disengagement for those learning remotely from home. Statistics and results will be used to make estimates at best.
Poor physical health had already been detected to play a major role in young children's ability to attend school. All children are bound to get ill from time to time; it is not unusual for primary schools to experience an outbreak of sickness or flu that is quickly passed on from one child to another and can sweep through a class in a matter of days.
Indeed, having a new very contagious virus, such as Covid19, to fend with, cannot have helped the situation.
Schools must stay on top of the situation that could otherwise have dramatic effects.
At Bromcom, we understand the importance that schools place on improving attendance, and we've designed a bespoke solution for primary schools to attain this.
Our teacher dashboard enables schools to monitor pupils' attendance regularly. It includes automated alerts that prompt when a student may be absent from class with all the relevant information recorded through an advanced dashboard. Teachers are notified when students are getting close to becoming a persistent absentee, and they have the chance to intervene. This is supported with our Primary Tracker to help teachers have clear oversight if their pupils’ academic progress and includes Summative Assessment, Formative Assessment and, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Correlate attendance and progress to see the patterns and look for anomalies.
Attendance in Secondary Schools
Unfortunately, attendance has particularly soared in secondary schools following the Covid-19 pandemic. Secondary school pupils being older than those in primary schools, have a more independent lifestyle: they may commute to school on their own, and by using public transport, they have more active social lives and frequent more shopping centres, high streets, and other public places – all of which puts them at higher risk of contagion and consequently in need to quarantine and miss out on lessons more often.
In November 2020, the BBC revealed that:
More than one in five secondary pupils in England missed school in a week, with worsening Covid disruption.
The latest attendance figures show 22% of secondary pupils were missing, based on who was in school last Thursday - up from 17% the previous week. The biggest teachers' union warned of a "collapse" in attendance, with almost three quarters of secondary schools sending home pupils.
It is understandable that school leaders and teachers are worried and often frustrated when faced with such tragic statistics.
Secondary schools must also find a way to keep on top of the numbers.
The Secondary School MIS, provided by Bromcom, is a very helpful tool for improving attendance.
It includes analytics dashboards able to track demographics and pupils' attendance. They are very user friendly, and it's easy to drill down from charts to tables. Rather than being limited to static figures, the dashboards demonstrate trends and ensure teachers and staff are aware of any changes in attendance or increases in persistent absentees.
Attendance tracking for MATs and LAs
For Multi Academy Trusts and Local Authorities to keep track of attendance becomes even more challenging, as their groups of academies may be very diverse and range from primary to secondary schools, each with different needs and issues.
MAT and LA leaders must get a comprehensive view of the attendance situation throughout all their academies.
The solution to this is first of all to use the same data management system in all the academies, as this will avoid any eventual disruption in attendance data reporting, and all other visualisation of KPIs.
Bromcom's Vision-X can give individual academies the agility they need to personalise most options, whilst offering the trust a unified view at top level through the same platform by integrating Microsoft Power BI as a key application.
Kirsteen Light of Consilium Academies has said:
"Vision-X has provided us with a Trust-wide view of attendance at the click of a button. The automatic updates have not only provided a wealth of data insights, but also saved us a significant amount of time which we can then put back into student progress and attainment.
One of the most impressive features of Vision-X is the integrated Power BI reports. With these, we have gained valuable data insights which were previously difficult to effectively monitor and evaluate. As a result, we are able to provide improved recommendations for our Academies, based on this new data, enabling them to provide enhanced solutions for pupils."
2. Taking action to improve school attendance
Once the monitoring and tracking process is up and running, schools have all the insight they need to take informed action.
The first and most important thing to do for teachers who've noticed frequent absence is communicating with the students' parents. It is vital for parents to be kept up to date about their children attendance patterns. Parents may have multiple commitments and, although they may be aware of their child missing school on a single day, they would not always have the time to notice or add up all the days in which lessons may have been missed. Having an awareness of one instance does not mean having the clarity that only the pattern made up by multiple instances can offer.
Teachers must share this information with parents.
To make life easier, schools must adopt a good communication tool able to share reports and messages between home and school.
Bromcom offers an online tool called MyChildAtSchool that enables parents to view their child's profile at school in real-time.
Parents can access the tool simply by connecting to the internet and via a web browser or downloading its companion App (available on Android or iOS).
The tool visualises and tracks real-time data, records of attendance, behaviour, assessment, letters, feedback, and other important documents, so that parents stay informed. Communication is possible through messaging, push notifications and email.
In this way, parents are able to keep abreast of their child's progress and intervene when issues arise.
Tracking and prompt communication will remedy truancy issues
Any potential truancy problems can be detected early through analytics tools integrated within our cloud-MIS and prevented with parental assistance.
Using communication effectively to improve attendance will bring many other benefits that will ultimately contribute to the pupil's academic progress.
Scott Biggs, Senior Leader and MIS Consultant at Protean, has said:
"Through the parent portal/parent app, the Bromcom MIS has been able to use communications with parents to praise the work children do as well as remind them about their attendance. This has been huge with users positively feeding back on the impact it has made. Clear and open communication using the MIS system has really improved the collaboration between school and home."
Would you like to know more about how we can help manage your school data?
This post's intention has been to answer some of the basic questions that may arise, especially in recent times, around school attendance. However, Bromcom can do so much more to help organise all your school's data, including managing finances and supporting school improvement.
You can find more detailed information and explore all our tools on our website. And if you'd like to know more about us, just drop us a line or call us, we are always happy to help.
08 February 2021 / Liza Adebisi