As a Future Leader and in my role as associate assistant principal at Consett Academy, one of my aims is to ensure 100 per cent attendance. This may seem impossible but I don’t think that high expectations can ever be a bad thing.
Outstanding learning can only occur if students are present regularly. That may seem obvious. What is less obvious is the significant impact on the overall performance of the academy and most critically on attainment for a student who misses out.
Recent evidence from Charlie Taylor, the government’s behaviour advisor, shows that students with poor attendance are unlikely to succeed academically and are more likely not to be in education, employment or training when they leave.
Of those students who miss 50 per cent or more of their learning time, only three per cent manage to achieve five or more GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths. Compare that to the 73 per cent of students who hit this benchmark who have 95 per cent attendance.
In order to improve attendance, it is vital that this message is delivered to everyone. We do this through a range of means, including informal discussions, activities with students, assemblies, letters, phone calls and meetings with students, staff and parents.
Although parents have a legal responsibility to ensure their child attends regularly, and can be sanctioned with fixed penalty fines or be taken to court and prosecuted, this is a last resort.
Such measures can be prevented if attendance is led well; this means setting high expectations and then identifying poor attendance patterns and barriers quickly – and before they become entrenched – with interventions put into action immediately.
I believe that parents of students with a poor record should be supported to get their children to school with a range of measures. This can include home visits from staff and liaising with outside agencies to assist parents who are in real difficulty.
Schools should also explain to parents the attendance/attainment equation and the difference between minor ailments and the sort of illnesses that require time off. It’s about setting high expectations and then building a constructive dialogue and acting quickly.
We reinforce the ethos of good attendance with rewards. These include “100%” bronze, silver and gold badges and certificates for those who achieve 100 per cent attendance during a term. These students are also included in a termly prize draw with rewards like shopping vouchers.
Elsewhere, we hold a principal’s lunch celebration at the end of each half-term and 100 per cent students are personally invited. These rewards support our students and enable them to take pride in their attendance.
We also publish attendance figures in a competitive format – tutor groups with the best attendance earn trophies and certificates to display in their rooms; these are awarded in weekly assemblies. The data is placed on the academy’s virtual learning environment and not only are the best attendance students praised, but the most improved too.
I believe any educational establishment can achieve a positive attendance culture. Like cooking a masterpiece you simply need the right ingredients in the right order: A cup of high expectations, a few spoons of the attendance/achievement equation message to stakeholders, mixed in with supported parents/carers, then cooked with rewarded students in a competitive oven and you will have Consett’s recipe for excellent attendance and ultimately improved academic success.
Jamie Robinson entered PE teaching out of a keen interest in rugby coaching. He is a member of the Future Leaders 2012 cohort and is currently on his residency year at Consett Academy in Durham, where he is developing a new attendance policy. Future Leaders aims to develop inspirational school leaders to work in challenging schools. Visit www.future-leaders.org.uk