Consistent school attendance is strongly linked to the quality of academic outcomes. It seems quite obvious really – for students to achieve academic success, they need to be in school with as few days’ absence as possible.

As a senior leader, I have spent considerable time and energy analysing attendance figures, identifying students with the most chronic attendance issues and then working to engage them in the education process. I’ve worked with some incredibly committed colleagues who have been responsible for getting such pupils back into school. Although we cannot control the outcome of whether a student comes to school or not, we use various strategies in our toolkit to influence the results. There are three approaches to tackling persistent absence which I will share in this blog.

What Is Persistent Absence?

According to a report from LSE, “pupils are identified as a persistent absentee if they miss 10% or more of their possible school sessions where a session is defined as half a day.”
Translating this into action, school leaders should be focusing on anyone who has an attendance of 90% and below. As a caveat, it might would be worth setting a threshold of 95% as this group could be at risk of falling into the 90% (persistent absentee) category with just a few additional days’ absence.

A Growing Issue

Tackling attendance has always been an issue for schools. As a fledgling teacher, I can recall poring over class registers as part of my responsibility as a pastoral leader. I’m not sure how much has changed since then! Recent evidence suggests that the issue has significantly worsened post-pandemic. According to the LSE report, persistent absence rates rose from 11.7 percent in 2017/18 to a staggering 23.5 percent in 2021/22. These figures are an alarming cause for concern and demand sound approaches to dealing with this issue.

What Strategies Might Work?

Here I will detail some effective strategies which are a mix of my own personal success in tackling persistent absence as well as evidence based strategies. Considering that there is a dearth of approaches to tackling attendance, you might find these strategies helpful.

  1. Act early: large gaps in attendance follow ups allow deep-seated habits to form. Early and frequent intervention gives you the opportunity to nip issues in the bud. Checks may range from fortnightly data captures to daily monitoring for the most chronic cases.
  2. Personalise it: The Education Endowment Foundation recommends sending personalised letters and SMS messages to parents. So, avoid sending the generic ‘attendance is important because (insert reason here)’ email and know exactly who the students are that need targeted support. This is where Attendance Officers can come in very handy by providing a list of students who require personalised contact.
  3. For the most problematic families, invite them in to discuss the issues. Avoid judging individuals. Instead take an empathetic approach and build alliances by working collaboratively to explore strategies that could support both the pupil and parents.

In the end, I am under no illusion that this issue can be fixed easily. It takes considerable amounts of sustained action and equal measures of patience. I hope that the strategies suggested in this article are useful. I’d be interested in