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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."
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Attendance is central to every school for it is fundamental to a child’s social, academic and emotional development. Those working within education strive to give children and young people access to an education within a learning environment that is conducive. We want all our pupils to have the opportunity to reach their full academic potential and achieve in line with their capabilities. This is the entitlement of every child and it is the role of both schools and parents to ensure we give them every opportunity to learn.
Excellent school attendance is also key for a number of other reasons; it plays a key part in a school’s inspection given it is linked to overall pupil attainment, it goes hand in hand with safeguarding policies and protocol and lastly it is a great life skill for pupils to learn as it will be a requirement throughout their adult life.
As educators, we understand why such an emphasis is placed on attendance and believe that regular attendance is in the interest of the child and their learning. However, often we come across parents and young people who may not agree or do not attach much importance to attendance and education.
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a parent: they can sometimes feel targeted, accused of being bad parents, judged, angry, upset and misunderstood. This is evident from a number of online forums where parents share their thoughts and feelings with others in similar situations. From the parent’s point of view, sometimes, they do not understand what the problem is.
When we consider the correspondence parents receive from schools it is understandable why some can feel threatened and become defensive. Letters threatening court action and potential fines can be distressing, especially amid other matters that may be pressing upon them which could result in them dismissing the issue.
From a school’s point of view contacting the parent of an absentee can be as simple as automatically generating a letter for pupils with attendance below 95% but for a parent, it may evoke a number of emotions, confusion and frustration. Therefore, it is our role to educate parents as to why we are sending the letters, why we are concerned, why we are challenging non-attendance and how regular attendance will benefit their child and them, as parents.
So what measures can we take? Below are a number of strategies that have been powerful in showing parents the impact of poor attendance and/or punctuality:
Once a parent can see that a school’s involvement and intervention stems from concerns about their child, as opposed to our overall school attendance figures, the likelihood of engagement increases. Expressing to parents that “85% attendance is below DfE and the school expectations” will mean far less than “Naomi was embarrassed, distressed and started to cry because she did not want to walk into assembly late again” or “Kai has fallen behind on his work significantly and now becomes frustrated when he is unable to understand and complete his work and refuses to do it; further acting as a barrier to learning”.
In order for parents to make the link between regular attendance and a positive school experience it is essential that we make this link first. Unfortunately, as attendance meetings are usually held by Attendance Officers, EWOs or someone with a similar role, this insightful information is not always known or shared at attendance-related parent meetings. However, it is this information that may help to turn things around as it specifically highlights the relevant concerns, impacts and the incentives for change.
Non-attendance should be challenged; however, it is for us to review and tailor our approach to individual parents. It is for us to be clear about the objectives of our interventions, demonstrate how a change is in the interest of their child and relay our concerns in a way that parents can understand. Working together is therefore central to reaching our parents and having an impact. Attendance is everybody’s responsibility.
"Attendance is everybody’s responsibility"