Attendance: 'Nudging' parents helps to tackle pupil absence

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Sending “nudge” letters to the parents of persistently absent pupils and identifying and addressing specific, individual barriers to attendance are two approaches shown to have positive impact on attendance.

A research review has looked at the findings of 72 studies into interventions aimed at improving pupils’ attendance.

But while there is evidence of positive impact for some approaches, the report, which has been published by the Education Endowment Foundation (2022), says that more research is needed.

The EEF is now to work with the Youth Endowment Fund to fund and trial different approaches to improve attendance and reduce exclusions.

Of the approaches shown to have a positive impact, the review highlights the sending of personalised letters or texts to parents of students who are persistently absent.

These so-called “nudge” letters outline the importance of their child’s attendance to learning and the school community.

The report states: “The letter focused on the importance of students’ attendance to their learning and the school community and the number of days of school the student had missed the previous year alongside school contact details. The letter was translated into the most commonly spoken languages of (the) families.”

The review also found positive impacts for “responsive approaches”, where schools aim to identify and address individual causes or barriers behind a pupils’ persistence absence. This would then lead to specific interventions, such as one example cited in the report where a pupil was given an older “walking buddy” to help them overcome transportation issues and get to school.

Another example is an intervention using a three-tier model, which combines whole class rewards for good attendance, monitoring and parent communication for pupils with lower than average attendance, and individualised support from a guidance counsellor for those with the lowest attendance rates.

Other approaches considered in the review include the use of incentives and disincentives, mentoring, behaviour interventions, extra-curricular activities, provision of meals (breakfast and lunch programmes), and teaching social and emotional skills.

However, despite a few positive examples, the review concludes that the evidence on how to improve attendance is “weak”, with very few studies taking place in English schools.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the EEF, said: “We know that pupils who are persistently absent from school are less like to achieve well academically. But as the evidence review shows, we know much less about the best ways to improve attendance. While the research finds some positive impacts for approaches like engaging with parents and addressing the individual needs of pupils, overall, the evidence on what works for reducing absenteeism is weak.

“Teachers deserve a much clearer picture of how best to support their pupils who are persistently absent. Our new funding round with the Youth Endowment Fund will help fill some of these evidence gaps, by identifying and evaluating promising interventions, programmes, and approaches.”

The new EEF-YEF funding round is now open for applications until May 16. Applications are sought from schools, charities, or other organisations with “promising initiatives that could improve attendance and reduce exclusions”.

The EEF and YEF wants to find, fund, and evaluate” programmes and practices in England and Wales that could “both keep children safe from involvement in violence and improve academic attainment, by ensuring they attend, positively engage with, and remain in school/college”.


Emotionally based school avoidance: A SecEd Webinar

Our recent webinar on responding to emotionally based school avoidance offers ideas, tips and advice about how we can respond and engage with pupils who are not attending school. We consider common barriers to attendance, effective support plans, involving students in the solutions, engaging with families, and what early intervention looks like. The panel also took extensive questions from viewers. A range of resources supplied by the panellists are also available to anyone registering to watch the webinar on catch-up.

Chaired by Pete Henshaw, editor of SecEd, the panel was Sarah Clarke, curriculum engagement and safeguarding lead at Wilmslow High School; Dr Pooky Knightsmith, mental health and wellbeing expert; Clare Brokenshire, head of Academy 21; Laura Juniper, SENCO at The Reach Free School.


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