Simple strategies that can help MATs to prioritise attendance

12th October 2023 | Blogs | News | Insights

With 1.6 million children persistently absent from school, attendance has become ‘the biggest problem facing us’ according to Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England.

The most recent full-year statistics (for the 2021/22 academic year) showed an overall absence rate of 7.6 per cent, up from around 4 to 5 per cent before the pandemic. In that year, 22.5 per cent of pupils were persistently absent, meaning they missed 10 per cent or more of school sessions – around double the pre-pandemic rate.  

Multi-academy trusts (MATs) can play a crucial role in improving attendance in their schools by fostering a positive culture of attendance. Here are some ways that MATs can create this culture: 

1) Data analysis and monitoring 

  • MATs should regularly collect and analyse attendance data from all member schools. 
  • Identify trends, patterns, and specific areas or schools with attendance issues. 
  • Use data to set clear attendance targets and benchmarks for each school. 
  • For MATs using Thrive-Online, wellbeing data can also feed into this process, helping to highlight children and young people who may be struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety at an early stage. Thrive-Online supports schools to monitor the progress of interventions put into place to remove barriers to good attendance, such as emotionally-based school avoidance or other identified needs.

    2) Leadership and governance 

    • MAT leadership should prioritise attendance as a key performance indicator, drawing upon an informed understanding of the issues that impact good school attendance and with a clear vision for improvement. 
    • Ensure that trustees, governors, and school leaders are accountable for attendance outcomes using methodology that accurately identifies causal factors that are impacting on attendance outcomes. 
    • Establish attendance committees or working groups within the MAT to focus on attendance issues. Ensuring that pastoral leads are part of these groups and a clear framework for improving school attendance is established in consultation with stakeholders. 

      3) Promote a positive school culture 

      • Create a culture within MAT schools that values and promotes regular attendance through positive relationships and a shared sense of belonging. Thrive has created a free webinar giving practical strategies about how settings can create a sense of belonging. View it here.
      • Celebrate good attendance – but remember not to inadvertently shame or blame children and young people whose attendance is not good. Instead focus on how settings can support pupils and their families and carers to help improve things. 
      • Conduct regular assemblies, events or campaigns to highlight the importance of attendance and emphasise the benefits of being in school. For example, opportunities to develop strong peer relationships and the chance to take part in curriculum and enrichment opportunities, including after school clubs. 

        4) Engagement with parents and carers 

        • Encourage settings to build strong relationships with parents and carers so that staff feel more confident to have difficult conversations with them, if need be. This was the subject of a recent Thrive podcast – listen here to find out more. 
        • Provide parents and carers with information on attendance policies and procedures. Be sensitive to the tone and content of these communications so that no one feels blamed or shamed.  

        5) Early intervention and support 

        • Consider taking a preventative approach by using broader tracking and measuring metrics. For example, a platform like Thrive-Online provides an effective way to identify potential problems with wellbeing and mental health at an early stage so that pupils can be offered support to get back on track before attendance is an issue. 
        • Encourage settings to take a nurturing, trauma-informed approach so that they are seeking to help and support pupils rather than censure them. 
        • Implement an effective system for tracking absenteeism. 
        • Identify pupils with persistent absenteeism and provide targeted interventions and support, involving families and carers where necessary. 

          6) Flexible learning options 

          • Explore flexible learning options for pupils who may struggle with traditional school hours or settings. 
          • Consider online learning, blended learning, or alternative education programs for pupils with unique needs. 

          7) Regular communication 

          • Maintain open lines of communication with parents/carers and pupils about attendance expectations. 
          • Use various channels, including newsletters, emails and meetings, to keep stakeholders informed. 

            8) Training and professional development 

            • Provide training to staff on how to effectively monitor and address attendance issues – with a focus on seeking to understand the reasons behind any problems so that support can be offered.  
            • Equip teachers with strategies to make lessons engaging and relevant, which can increase motivation to attend school. 

            9) Review and adapt 

            • Continuously assess the effectiveness of attendance improvement strategies. 
            • Be willing to adapt and modify approaches based on the evolving needs of schools and pupils. 

            10) Sharing best practice

            • Encourage collaboration among member schools within the MAT to share successful attendance improvement practices. 
            • Foster a culture of learning and improvement across the MAT. 

            Your guide to tackling low attendance

            Thrive has produced a guide to attendance which includes our three recommendations to implement sustainable change as well as practical tips and suggestions for use in schools and settings. Click here to download your free copy of Being in School Matters: Your guide to tackling low attendance. 

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