Strategies to tackle behaviour and attendance

Written by: Osman Stackhouse | Published:

How can pastoral leaders support pupil progress? Focusing on tackling behaviour and absence issues, school leader Osman Stackhouse reports on some of the pastoral strategies he has used successfully

I applied to join the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme in 2013 as the subject leader of geography at Park Hall Academy in Birmingham.

However, following a successful application for the programme, I was promoted to the senior management team in charge of key stage 3.

This change in role brought a shifting leadership perspective from being subject-specific to whole-school-orientated and the challenge of developing an Impact Initiative for a pastoral role that would be measured by academic progress.

The Impact Initiative is a project, set over one or two years, which encourages Teaching Leaders Fellows to establish a goal and create a vision to raise pupil progress within their area of responsibility. It is a key component of the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme as it enables Fellows to make a positive impact or change in their own school.

This article will give an overview of the strategies that I used in my Impact Initiative to support pupil progress as a pastoral leader.

Triangulation of academic/pastoral data

The first step was to establish a link between my pastoral responsibilities, which focused on attendance and behaviour in key stage 3, to their impact on pupil progress.

This would enable my typical working practices to support the Impact Initiative and become an integral, rather than an additional, aspect of my workload.

As my role of key stage 3 leader was not subject-specific, I decided to focus on the core subjects of English and mathematics. I used the national transition matrices to identify rates of expected progress in English and mathematics to set an overall goal of 70 per cent of the selected cohort of year 7 pupils to make expected progress.

I then set the following targets linked to my pastoral responsibilities to support pupil progress:

  • To reduce negative behaviour referrals in year 7 to 8 by 10 per cent.
  • To ensure all persistent absentees (below 85 per cent attendance) received additional progress intervention.
  • To ensure 100 per cent of NQTs and trainee staff had lesson observations with a behaviour management focus.
  • To ensure 100 per cent of pupils had learning conversations and a progress review in year 7.

Communicating the vision

I was keen to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the Impact Initiative. I felt that “buy-in” from other members of staff was more likely if they could see that the vision of the Impact Initiative would be beneficial to their departments without adding to their workload.

I thought it was essential that clear lines of communication were established from the outset so I took the following measures:

  • The subject leaders for English and mathematics were consulted on the aims and processes of my Impact Initiative.
  • The head of year 7 was involved in the analysis of behaviour, attendance and progress data, as well as being involved in the intervention programme.
  • The behaviour management support mechanisms were communicated with the teaching staff.
  • The data managers were consulted on the most appropriate method of tracking pupil progress alongside the pastoral data.

Effective communication was essential to ensure that subject leaders’ analysis and departmental intervention could complement my own work, as opposed to duplicating it, that teaching staff felt supported rather than undermined, and that any further pastoral intervention was evidence-based through pupil tracking.

Pupil tracking and intervention

The aim of the pupil tracking was to identify whether the selected cohort was making expected progress and spot any barriers to progress. Much of the responsibility for “first wave teaching” (behaviour management within lessons and progress data entry) lay with the teachers and subject leaders within English and mathematics.

My role as a senior leader was to co-ordinate the analysis of progress data and pastoral data before launching the appropriate intervention.

The data manager set up a spreadsheet that compared half-termly assessment results with expected targets in English and mathematics, whereby the pupils would be colour-coded according to whether they were below, in line with, or above expected progress targets.

This could then be cross-referenced with each individual pupil’s attendance and behaviour referrals to see if these were factors affecting rates of progress.

Once it became clear that certain pupils were falling behind their expected rates of progress I could then instigate pastoral intervention for those pupils with behaviour or attendance concerns.

If patterns emerged that certain classes were not making expected progress then CPD opportunities or support programmes for the teaching staff could be initiated. A summary of interventions commonly used is as follows:

  • Regular communication with parents of children at risk of falling below 90 per cent attendance.
  • Return to school interviews with parents and pupils following several periods of unauthorised absences (commonly due to holidays in term time).
  • Developing a behaviour policy that has escalating consequences based on thresholds of negative behaviour referrals.
  • Initiating regular meetings, known as learning conversations, between pastoral leaders and pupils to encourage reflection on progress and target-setting.
  • Initiating CPD drop-in sessions and sharing of best practice for behaviour management.
  • Using lesson observations to support the development of behaviour management.


As a result, there has been a tangible improvement in attendance, with a reduction in the percentage of persistent absentees and a reduction of negative referrals in the identified cohort. The percentage of pupils making expected progress rose to 50 per cent in English and 67.9 per cent in mathematics, with one full term remaining to reach the overall goal of 70 per cent.

Anecdotally, the main success so far is that it has created a joined-up approach to support pupil progress, with subject departments and the pastoral team working towards the same goal.

Central to this is clear communication of the vision and appropriate tracking of pupils from academic and pastoral perspectives. I have learnt that embedding working practices that support and develop both pupils and staff can help ensure that the whole school is involved in supporting pupil progress.SecEd

  • Osman Stackhouse is vice-principal: head of lower school at Park Hall Academy in Birmingham. He is also part of the 2013 cohort of the TL Fellows programme.

Teaching Leaders
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