3. Promoting good attendance
Children and young people are more likely to be motivated to attend school when they feel fully included and engaged in the wider life of the school. Families are also likely to encourage full attendance where they feel part of the school community and where schools work alongside them as equal partners. Promoting good attendance is a multifaceted task that requires schools to promote positive relationships within an inclusive ethos and culture. Schools should engage positively with parents to ensure good learning, teaching and assessment with a key focus on supporting additional support needs. They should also work with community partners to ensure that children and young people and their families are supported. Pastoral care staff also play a key role in supporting good attendance.
3.1 Approaches to promoting positive relationships and developing a positive whole school ethos and culture
A culture where children and young people feel included, respected, safe and secure, where their achievements and contributions are valued and celebrated is essential to the development of good relationships. In order to create this environment for effective learning and teaching there should be a shared understanding of wellbeing underpinned by Children’s Rights and a focus on positive relationships across the whole school community.
Climate and ethos are key determinants in promoting social and emotional wellbeing and positive mental health for everyone within the school community. The implementation of social and emotional programmes and initiatives as a whole school, with a universal approach can have a significant impact on school ethos and culture which can in turn impact positively on both school attainment and attendance (Banerjee et al, 2014; Freeman et al, 2016) School attendance issues cannot easily be separated from the relationships, behaviours and wellbeing of the pupils and wider school community and it is important that schools view the promotion of attendance in this context.
There are a range of strategies, programmes and approaches which schools can and do use to improve relationships and behaviour and subsequently attendance. These include relationship based whole school approaches such as solution oriented approaches, restorative approaches and rights based learning. Schools have also found that the implementation of nurturing approaches based on nurturing principles, including nurture groups can improve the overall ethos and culture of a school and support pupils to feel more connected and engaged. Schools are increasingly recognising the impact that early adversity or trauma can have on children and young people and their families and are adapting their approaches to offer more nurturing and trauma informed supports which can help children and young people feel more included within their school environment.
A positive culture and ethos are key determinants in promoting good attendance for all.
The development of an anti-bullying approach based on the framework for anti-bullying Respect for All is also a helpful contributor in preventing absence as it has been found that some children and young people’s attendance can be impacted upon by bullying.
A rights based approach which takes account of the UNCRC and encourages children and young people’s participation in their learning is also likely to ensure children are included, engaged and involved in their school and community, and therefore more likely to be motivated to attend.
Ongoing absence from school is likely to be related to a range of factors and, therefore, any approach to promoting attendance requires a multilevel ecologically based intervention model which takes account of the school’s unique circumstances (Sugme, 2016).
3.2 Parental engagement
Parental engagement is key to ensuring good attendance. Positive relationships within education start in the early years through the informal, casual contact when parents drop younger children off and collect them. Capitalising on these early opportunities can lead to positive long term relationships based on trust and mutual respect. These positive relationships can continue throughout a child or young person’s school career. Clear transition arrangements in place at all stages would support positive relationships. These arrangements should start as early as possible and include families and all appropriate support.
Schools should ensure that they have regular contact with parents through various channels of communication. Parents are key partners in their child’s education and it is particularly important that they are aware of their responsibilities and are encouraged and supported to enable their child to attend school. Parents have a legal responsibility to provide efficient education to their child until he or she reaches school leaving age, which they may meet by ensuring that their child attends school regularly (section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980). Working in partnership with parents to ensure positive and trusting relationships are in place to promote the benefits of regular attendance and reduce any barriers is vital.
In discussing attendance with parents it is important to maintain a practical focus that recognises the challenges that can be part of family life, such as balancing work commitments; or dealing with financial challenges that may occur. Schools should work with partners to ensure that any barriers for families are supported and overcome as early as possible. Some schools have found that breakfast clubs improved attendance as these are a practical help to parents and pupils. Other schools have found that initiatives such as the ‘Cost of the school day’ has helped raise awareness of the financial barriers for families that might impact on them coming to school. It should be clear to parents and children and young people that consequences for lateness will be respectful and considerate towards any family circumstances and that when school staff become aware of any difficulties they will do what they can to help in partnership with other services.
When care experienced children and young people are moving placement, they may have to travel longer distances or adjust to new routes. The designated senior manager for care experienced children and young people in the school should ensure that support is in place at as early a stage as possible to ensure continuity.
Parents should be given clear information, updated on a regular basis, regarding their responsibility to inform the school if their child will be absent, and to provide current emergency contact information. It is helpful for schools to have an answering machine to receive communications from parents outwith school opening hours.
In order to promote good attendance, schools should engage with their wider parent body to gain a better understanding of any potential barriers that may exist locally. This should include engagement with families from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible. The Parent Council can also have a role in supporting engagement with the wider parent body around attendance issues. The Parent Council can be involved in developing and implementing initiatives with the wider parent body to encourage regular school attendance.
Information for parents on school attendance and absence is available on Parentzone.
3.3 Pastoral Care
All staff in school have a role to play in promoting good attendance and helping to reduce absence from school. Staff with a pastoral care responsibility should:
- be aware of early signs or concerns which may cause absence, to allow support plans to be arranged and adaptations and plans to be drawn up as appropriate
- ensure absence does not become a pattern or habit following a specific issue
- develop positive and trusting relationships with pupils and parents to prevent difficulties arising and to ensure difficulties are discussed and resolved when they do take place
- respond quickly to absence, to ensure children and young people are safe and well
- follow up on absence, to enable the school and its partners to make an effective response
- support reintegration into learning on returning from absence
Pastoral care staff should establish links with partner agencies to strengthen support to children and young people and parents. Education authorities can support school-based teams by having appropriate structures for centralised support to schools. Continuous Professional Development for all staff around areas such as promoting positive relationships; parental engagement; and learner participation can help schools to develop practice that will support good attendance. Professional development which explores systems and processes to monitor and improve attendance can also be helpful. There should also be a focus on the underlying reasons for absence (which may include mental health) particularly for those who may be working more directly in this area, such as home-school link workers or family support workers.
Pastoral care staff have a key role in monitoring, assessing and supporting absence. They should, where possible, identify patterns and underlying causes for absence in order that these can be addressed as quickly as possible. Other school staff and agencies may also contribute to this assessment.
3.4 Additional Support for Learning
The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 requires education authorities and other agencies to make provision for all pupils who require additional support to overcome barriers to their learning. Additional support may be required to overcome needs arising from their learning environment; disability or health; family circumstances or social and emotional factors which would include mental health concerns. Under the Act, every looked after child is presumed to have an additional support need, unless an assessment concludes otherwise.
Providing additional support may help children and young people to engage more fully with school and promote good attendance. Schools should recognise that poor attendance can often be related to, or be an indication of, an additional support need and they should use their staged intervention processes to ensure that any barriers to learning are identified and appropriate support is provided.
A Co-ordinated Support Plan (CSP) may be required when a child or young person requires significant long term additional support from an education authority as well as from another agency, such as health or social work services for example. The CSP sets out the educational objectives to be achieved, together with the additional support that requires to be co-ordinated to enable the child or young person to achieve these.
Guidance on planning to meet additional support needs is available from the Supporting Children’s Learning – Code of Practice.
3.5 Curriculum flexibility and Developing the Young Workforce
CfE promotes flexibility in the curriculum and allows schools to personalise learner journeys to meet the needs of all children and young people, and to reduce pressure on those in the Senior Phase. Children and young people should be encouraged to participate fully in their learning and the wider life of the school throughout the broad general education and when making subject choices as they move into the Senior Phase. Self-evaluation through ‘How Good is Our School? 4’ can help schools to identify how effective their approaches to school improvement are across the range of quality indicators. Schools should seek to develop a strong culture of learner participation and engagement.
Developing the Young Workforce; Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy builds on the foundations already in place through CfE and encourages schools to offer a flexible programme of skills development and vocational experiences to meet individual needs. Schools may develop programmes of learning with vocational and work experience elements, in partnership with other agencies such as careers services, colleges and local businesses to ensure young people are fully engaged. It is also important that schools support young people to develop a range of skills that will prepare them for the world of work, including regular attendance at school.
Schools can support children and young people’s attendance through offering a range of wider achievement programmes and access to apprenticeships.
As a result of an appropriate assessment, establishments may consider the use of
individualised, planned packages of support in order to promote good attendance. Partners from within and outwith the education authority should, where possible, support schools in providing packages of support to engage children and young people across all sectors.
3.6 Raising the profile of attendance and setting clear thresholds and expectations
In addition to co-production of policies and procedures, schools and education authorities can encourage good attendance by raising the profile of attendance and absence within school communities and in school documents such as the School Handbook.
Many schools link incentive schemes with good attendance. Engagement with children and young people can help to establish whether it is felt that such incentive schemes are helpful and what incentives, if any, are appropriate. Schools should also be sensitive to using incentive schemes to support attendance and recognise that often poor attendance is something that is not under a child or young person’s control. Using incentive schemes in an inappropriate way can often demotivate and in some cases may cause distress to children and young people who have been unable to attend school for complex reasons.
Promotion of good attendance at school can occur on an authority wide basis. Key figures such as elected members, senior managers from the wider local authority and community groups should be involved in raising the profile of the benefits of good attendance. The promotion of good attendance and recognising improvements in attendance can also help to convey positive messages about young people to the wider community. Education authority quality assurance processes should enable key senior managers to develop an overview of attendance across their schools and support schools to develop good practice in promoting attendance and responding effectively to absence.
Schools should have a clear vision and strategic plan to promote and manage attendance. This should include identified personnel and systems to support the tracking and monitoring of attendance. Schools may consider setting realistic and specific targets around overall attendance. Improvement methodologies can be helpful in supporting schools to achieve these targets. Schools should consider evaluating the effectiveness of any approaches to supporting attendance. This may include using the Improvement Methodology supported by the Children and Young Peoples Improvement Collaborative. Schools may also consider working with other schools in locality groupings within the education authority or within their Regional Improvement Collaborative area to share and develop effective practice around the promotion of good attendance.
Education authorities and schools may also choose to set thresholds which determine at what level appropriate intervention to support attendance should take place. This is likely to vary across education authorities as it will be linked to their particular context and the data they have which provides a clearer picture of attendance and absence within the education authority. When attendance falls below the level set by the education authority, there should be clear processes in place to ensure parents and partners are informed and appropriate support is put in place.