Improving attendance for Pupil Premium students

Written by: Xavier Roeseler | Published:
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Attendance is a priority for Ofsted and the DfE is to introduce new requirements for schools. Xavier Roeseler outlines some strategies for supporting Pupil Premium students to attend


The government has published new attendance guidance after its recent consultation (DfE, 2022a). It includes a new requirement from September 2022 for schools to have an attendance policy (SecEd, 2022a).

Attendance was also a key focus for the schools White Paper, Opportunity for all, published in March (DfE, 2022b) and which included a pledge for a national data system “to drive up attendance and make it easier for agencies to protect vulnerable children”.

Ofsted has also reported recently on attendance strategies that work (Ofsted, 2022; SecEd, 2022b), while the Education Endowment Foundation published an evidence review in March and is now looking to fund trials of attendance interventions (EEF, 2022; SecEd, 2022c).

When it comes to pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium, making sure that they have the highest possible attendance is an important part of the support you can give them. But what kind of strategies can help get these pupils into school?


Appoint an attendance officer

Consider appointing an attendance officer or home liaison officer who can lead on improving attendance. If needed, offer additional training and make sure you give them enough time to carry out their tasks – attendance cannot be a bolt-on responsibility.

You should ensure the role focuses on:

  • Building relationships with Pupil Premium students and their parents.
  • Monitoring pupils with low attendance and working with them to improve.
  • Understanding the barriers to attendance.
  • Developing attendance plans for individual pupils.
  • Analysing school attendance data.


Engage directly with families

In his recent article for SecEd, virtual school headteacher Darren Martindale warns us that “concerns over school attendance are a very good indicator of even more serious problems that may be coming down the line for the child” (Martindale, 2022).

As such, it is essential that your attendance officer contacts absentees quickly. They should put in place a system to call pupils or their parents on the first day of absence. Do this early, so you have a chance to persuade them to come into school for the rest of the day, if appropriate.

For pupils who are regularly late or absent, call them before school starts to make sure that they are awake, getting ready and planning to come in.

Prioritise the more vulnerable pupils and those whose parents have not called in to report the absence. It is important to be consistent and persistent with this approach. If possible, consider offering to collect pupils using a school vehicle, to make it as easy as possible for them to come into school.

Try to understand why a pupil is regularly late or has poor attendance. There could be a practical barrier, like transport. Does their journey involve multiple buses? Or is the pupil daunted by the morning routine of coming into school and getting settled? By understanding the barriers, you can better target your interventions.

If things don’t improve, invite the parents in for a meeting or carry out a home visit. This can help build your understanding of why the pupil is often absent or late. Agree on actions that the parents will take and what support the school will offer. After the meeting, set these out in a parenting contract for the parents to sign.

Be ready to point parents to services that can provide additional support – such as behaviour management help, parenting skills, or mental health services. Recommending these services to individual families should always be done sensitively and by a suitably trained staff member.

All this could be a lot of work for your attendance officer, so think about training other members of staff to help. For example, could someone else make morning phone calls to absent pupils or their parents and bring them to school (if that is part of your attendance system)?

It is important to get to know all your pupils’ families – not just those whose children have poor attendance. Consider holding coffee mornings to build relationships with parents and encourage them to attend. This can help you to understand the needs and circumstances of your pupils and their families.


Track and monitor the data

The White Paper pledges to raise attendance through more effective use of data. It is critical that all members of staff know how to use your management information system (MIS) and understand what’s expected of them. Make sure you are regularly monitoring and analysing attendance data, so you can spot when staff are not using your systems consistently and identify when a pupil’s attendance starts to drop. Spotting a drop in attendance early will mean your school can proactively engage with the pupil and their parents early, too, before it becomes a big issue.

You may also pick up on patterns, such as if a pupil is regularly absent on a particular day each week and consider things like whether absence coincides with a particular class – and if so, look into what the barrier might be here, or whether the subject teacher can offer extra support.


Raise the profile of attendance

Use your assemblies and communications with parents to explain the importance of attending school for building friendships and achieving academically. Praise individuals who have improved their attendance, or think about introducing weekly prizes to those with 100% attendance. You could use displays in school to promote and celebrate high attendance. Consider getting in touch with local institutions such as places of worship and community groups and asking them to promote the message too.


Colleagues and external agencies

Liaise with other members of staff and external agencies to build a more accurate picture of the challenges your pupils and their parents face. Work together to develop a plan of how best to support them. For example, poor attendance can be a sign of a safeguarding issue so it is vital that you share information with your designated safeguarding lead so they too can keep track of individual pupils.

Talk with your heads of year, form tutors or class teachers, your SENCO and mental health lead. This will allow you to find out about other challenges individual pupils might have, such as poor behaviour or mental health.

All this information should be fed into the senior leadership team so that you all know what strategies are in place and how they are working. Check whether anyone needs more support or training and encourage individual members of staff to ask for it.


Support from your authority

If possible, get additional support from your local authority’s education welfare officer. Involving the local authority can improve attendance because parents may respond better to someone in an external role, rather than a familiar member of school staff.

Ask the education welfare officer to liaise with parents of all pupils with low attendance, rather than only focusing on those pupils with extremely low attendance.

  • Xavier Roeseler is a senior content editor at The Key, a provider of intelligence and resources for education leaders. Advice in this article is taken from The Key for School Leaders’ resource Improving the attendance of pupils eligible for the Pupil Premium, written with input from Gulshan Kayembe, Peter Slough and Mark Trusson. For more information, visit https://schoolleaders.thekeysupport.com/


SecEd Summer Edition 2022

This article first appeared in SecEd's Summer Edition 2022. This edition was sent free of charge to every secondary school in the country. A digital edition is also available via www.sec-ed.co.uk/digital-editions/

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