Understanding Attendance: findings on the drivers of persistent absence

Understanding Attendance: findings on the drivers of persistent absence

Attendance is at the top of every school leaders’ priority list, with persistent absenteeism rates rising to 24.2% in the Autumn term of 22/23. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to improving attendance, and the effectiveness of interventions is context-dependent.

ImpactEd’s Understanding Attendance project aims to equip schools to understand the drivers of attendance in their setting. This month we will be launching our first public report from the project on our findings so far. Ahead of that, here are three early themes for SSAT readers:

1) The “second transition” from year 7 to year 8

While the transition into secondary school is well reported, data from over 120 schools participating in the project so far shows the vital importance of the year 7 to year 8 transition as an inflection point for attendance.

Average attendance in year 8 was lower by two percentage points than for the year 7 cohort in our sample, and year 8 students self-reported lower sense of school belonging, higher anxiety and less engagement with lessons than year 7. The drop-off between these two years was steeper than for any other two year groups in our study.

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Creating a positive environment around attendance in year 7 then, may be something that yields disproportionate benefits for the rest of a child’s experience.

2) Sense of belonging over sanctions

Students tended to report high awareness of the consequences of missing school. However, this did not seem to significantly influence their likelihood of attending school. On a five-point scale, pupils in the bottom 20 per cent of school attendance scored 4.25 out of 5 in response to “There are consequences if I skip lessons”.

By contrast, a student’s sense of belonging at school was associated with their likelihood of attendance at a statistically significant level. Factors driving this are different by groups: for example, feeling physically safe at school was more likely to be associated with attendance for females than males.

3) A nuanced approach to attendance

While most colleagues are aware of pupil groups who are likely to attend less, our research highlights the importance of the intersection of characteristics.

For example, pupils eligible for pupil premium have lower attendance rates than their non-pupil premium peers by six percentage points. But when we look at pupils who are both pupil premium and SEND in secondary schools – this gap widens to a difference of ten percentage points in attendance.

Pupils’ mental wellbeing appeared to be a particularly important driver of attendance for SEND pupils, with SEND pupils in the bottom 20% of attendance rates scoring especially low for wellbeing.

Next steps

Taken together our findings highlight the importance of getting beneath the surface of attendance data to its underlying drivers. They also illustrate how positive approaches that emphasise a collective and supportive whole-school culture for attendance can make a difference.

We are currently expanding the Understanding Attendance project. The more schools that collaborate, the better our evidence will be on how to tackle the absence challenge.

If you’d be interested in participating in ImpactEd’s project, please get in touch. And if you’d like to hear more about its findings, ImpactEd are running an online event on the 18th January to share what they’ve learned so far.

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