How can we address and discourage student absenteeism?
You might imagine that children would be excited going back to school after the lockdown but not everyone is.
There is plenty of anxiety about being in school again and many children are nervous about meeting up with the friends.
Beyond the lockdown, students don’t turn up for school for lots of other reasons so schools have plenty to cope with.
Students who are chronically absent (they miss 10% or more of the school year) are at serious risk of falling behind in school.
But what can we do about it?
There is a five step approach that is worth discussing and it comes from the Department of Education, Queensland Government in Australia.
1. Develop a positive school culture
Creating a welcoming and positive school learning environment is essential and some schools are really making a big effort to welcoming children back.
Schools should develop a safe and supportive school environment that promotes positive relationships. This may include implementation of programs that develop social and emotional skills, peer tutoring and mentoring, and anti-bullying strategies.
When students feel happy and safe, physically and emotionally, they engage in school and want to be there.
Clearly, positive home-school relationships have got to be on ongoing and concerted effort in order to help parents support their child’s attendance at school.
In light of the pandemic, your school’s learning and wellbeing framework will need a significant overhaul so that it is clear how you are helping students reluctant to be in school. As part of this, conduct a regular school climate survey to measure your school’s conditions for learning.
2. Communicate high expectations of attendance
Staff, parents and students should collaboratively develop a clear, inclusive and simple attendance message that promotes high expectations of student attendance.
How this message is communicated is crucial and it needs to be consistent. This might be done in a number of ways such as through the school’s website, newsletters and enrolment literature.
Connectedness is key.
3. Record and follow-up student absences
Absenteeism needs to be followed-up swiftly and so there needs to be a rigorous system in place to investigate any unexplained student absences.
Timely follow-up is a key preventative strategy in reducing absenteeism. It makes it harder for students to miss school without being detected. It also enables parents, who may not be aware that their child is absent, to take action.
4. Monitor student non-attendance
This is where data is actually useful because your attendance information will flag-up absentee students and identify school and student absenteeism trends.
With real-time data, schools can ‘track and act’ to look at behavior that can reveal the underlying causes of chronic absenteeism.
Schools should investigate absentee patterns and their relationship to factors such as the day of the week, the class/subject/year level, particular gender/cultural groups, and individual student’s patterns of attendance.
5. Provide intervention and support
Parents can be issued a Fixed Penalty Notice by the Local Authority for their child’s non-attendance. The penalty is £60 and this rises to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.
If a registered pupil of compulsory school age fails to attend school regularly, the parent could be guilty of an offence under section 444 Education Act 1996. In April 2017, the Supreme Court held that attending school “regularly” means attendance in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school and not “sufficiently frequent attendance“. This means that a child must attend school on every day that the school requires him or her to do so and failure to do this may lead to the commission of an offence.
Most parents don’t want to be prosecuted if they do not fulfil their legal obligations in regard to their child’s attendance at school. Some though are not phased by the prospect.
There are 2 offences:
1. Section 444(1) Education Act 1996 – If the child is absent without authorisation then the parent is guilty of an offence. This is a strict liability offence i.e. all that needs to be shown is a lack of regular attendance. Sanctions can include a fine of up to £1,000.
2. Section 444(1A) Education Act 1996 – an aggravated offence. If the child is absent without authorisation and the parent knew about the child’s absence and failed to act then the parent is guilty of an offence. Sanctions can include a fine of up to £2,500 and a prison sentence of up to 3 months.
However, prosecution is considered to be a last resort for use when alternative approaches to improving a student’s attendance have not been successful. Schools should also liaise with other agencies such as the Police.
Think carefully about designating one person to greet children as they arrive at school to make it easy for them to ask someone for help if their day is getting off to a bad start.
Always have extra uniforms and school supplies at the ready and available for students who might otherwise stay off school without them.
Schools have to regularly inform theof any pupils who are regularly absent from school, have irregular attendance, or have missed 10 school days or more without the school’s permission.
Schools also have a safeguarding duty, under section 175 Education Act 2002, to investigate any unexplained absences.