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Samantha Lowman, schools coordinator (school attendance), School-Home Support, gives some suggestions from SHS’s 30-year experience
Most of us take it for granted that the end of the Christmas holiday means going back to school. Some dread it, some can’t wait. But what about the children who don’t make it back for the first week of the new term, or at all?
Attendance often drops after school holidays, and this occurs for a range of reasons.
Some parents use the break to book an extended holiday, thinking it will slip through the gaps. Some parents struggle to return to the routine of bringing children to school; school simply isn’t the priority. But there are more serious reasons.
Family circumstances can change during the holidays (particularly during Christmas, when tensions run high) and schools are often the last to know. Children with separated parents might move from living with one parent to another, moving schools in the process; or where there is domestic violence, a parent might flee with the child. There is also an increased risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) over the holidays: one of our SHS practitioners recently dealt with a case where a child took extra time to return to school after the holidays as she had experienced FGM and the family were waiting for her to heal. Noticing the signs, the SHS practitioner flagged this to the authorities and an investigation is underway.
There are also reasons relating to poverty: a child loses their school shoes over the holidays and their parents can’t afford new ones so they keep them home, not knowing what to do.
Of course, parents aren’t always the driver for absence: children can have their own incidents over the holidays which make them reluctant to return. They might fall out with friends and find themselves unable to face them again on a daily basis, or they might experience bullying or cyber-aggression over the holidays. Others fall victim to gangs and fear returning.
Dedicated work is needed to address the root causes of absence and to bring up whole-school attendance. One of our practitioners has been based in a school for 13 years, providing family support. A year ago, the school refocused her role specifically on attendance. As a result their recent Ofsted report noted, ’The family support worker and phone calls to parents have encouraged pupils to come to school every day. As a result […], there are marked improvements in the attendance of pupils who previously had low attendance rates.’
Some effective measures
What do schools do to achieve such results? They closely monitor absence, and contact parents immediately if a child doesn’t arrive at school – if there’s no response, a home visit is made the same morning and if the child is there and well, they’ll be taken to school.
Practitioners will look at whole-school attendance, working out which classes and year groups are doing the best and worst. Many give out certificates in weekly assemblies as well as putting regularly updated signs on classroom doors which announce the class’s attendance percentage – a great motivator for pupils who don’t want to let their class down by lowering the number. Practitioners also circulate their figures in regular staff reports so improvement can be seen.
Of course, these are just the ways practitioners track absence. Tackling root causes is the other part of the job, and includes:
- having open office hours where children can drop in for confidential chats about issues such as bullying or abuse
- building strong relationships with parents and signposting them to services supporting, for example, mental ill-health or substance misuse
- using the SHS Welfare Fund to pay for practical tools, such as alarm clocks, new school uniforms or breakfast club.
We’ve been providing funded breakfast club placements in a selection of our schools and have noticed an improvement in attendance: parents are incentivised to bring children in for the free meal, children late for breakfast club are still in time for school, and they concentrate better in class once fed.
Tackling poor attendance isn’t easy, but it makes a huge difference to children’s education and opportunities.
Read more on the SSAT blog: Why we set up four pathways for pupil premium students