Attending to Attendance
Historically, it was assumed that children that didn't attend school were playing truant and enjoying it. Many of us believed that parents were failing to understand the importance of their child's education and neglecting their responsibilities to send them to school, pay for holidays out of term time or deal with the early morning chaos and school run.
Today we know that attendance is much more complicated than this and the reasons for children failing to attend school are often related to poor mental health, austerity and vulnerabilities within the home. As teachers, a child's attendance record impacts on the perception, and rating of our schools and as a result attendance is firmly part of our responsibility and with ever increasing discussions on the challenges associated with this, we thought we would share some of our experiences and ideas with you.
Understanding & Insight: It is important that we understand the patterns of attendance in children and look for patterns that could indicate physical or mental health problems, avoidance of specific subjects or peer groups or underlying problems at home. It is, of course, always best to understand the issue of attendance from the children themselves and we have found that encouraging children to write down their concerns is helpful and the output from this can be used to structure mentoring sessions or support in the future.
Appropriate Adjustments: If children continually struggle to attend school, it is important that we consider appropriate adjustments to facilitate a more appropriate and effective learning environment. These adjustments could include a part time timetable, a staggered start for children that feel anxious during the hustle and bustle that is created when lots of pupils are moving around the school. When considering appropriate adjustments, it is important to recognise that some children will have left incredibly distressing environments and giving them time and space to adjust, can go a long way to improving both their attendance and the outcomes of their learning. Children may be hungry, tired or in a state of hyper arousal and whether its a nurturing space, a sensory circuit or a piece of toast, helping a child readjust for learning is an imperative component of improving attendance and learning outcomes.
Encouraging Communication: Building a relationship with parents of children who are struggling to attend school is critical but it is important this isn't done with a sense of confrontation or blame. Instead, you should consider informal conversations at pickup time, a communication book that goes between home and school and an open door policy for parents with concerns. Focus on being supportive, encouraging and understanding whilst working together to look for solutions that put the pupil and their needs at their heart.
Sense of Safety: Increasingly, children feel anxious, uncertain or unsafe when they are in school and it is important that we as teachers work to create a sense of safety for them - in their school, in the classroom and throughout the communications that exist between school and home. It can be beneficial to allow children struggling with attendance to develop a strong relationship with a key member of staff who is happy to act as a buddy, a mentor or simply a safe space within the school environment. It is useful to recognise a child's absence rather than ignoring it and potentially risking a sense of shame or embarrassment. When sending work home or engaging with children who aren't in school, you could consider writing a note in their book that says something like, 'we missed you today but here is what we've been looking at'. You could also highlight points you think they would have been particularly interested in, good at or able to contribute to.
We have also found that providing children with an alternative focus can provide them a sense of purpose and reduce the emotions associated with fear. Giving a child a responsibility that they enjoy - something like distributing books or reading to younger classes, for example - have shown to have a positive impact on a child's sense of belonging within their education environment.
If you would like to know more about our attendance insights or are looking for support in improving attendance in your school, please do feel free to get in touch using firstname.lastname@example.org