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How can your school reduce absenteeism?

How can your school reduce absenteeism?

6 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed

School attendance is key to academic success. After all, how can you learn as effectively as possible if you miss classes, be it in person or through distance learning? Whilst we may not all be aware of the specific effects’ absenteeism can have on a student, we do know that they are almost always negative. 

So, how are students affected by absenteeism? And what can schools do to reduce it?

What is absenteeism?

Absenteeism refers to regularly missing school. It includes both excused and unexcused absences and can become a serious concern warranting guidance from schools and outside authority. 

The UK Department of Education report for the academic year 2017/2018 stated that there was an overall absence rate of 4.8%. Chronic absenteeism is considered to be when students miss 10% of the school year – in 2017/2018, 11.2% of pupils missed 10% or more of their school sessions. 

It is essential for schools to track absenteeism so that they can implement the right strategies to combat its effects early on. Schools can stay on top of this phenomenon by checking the attendance record every 2 weeks to identify those students that are at potential risk of chronic absenteeism. This will allow schools to manage attendance issues more effectively as it is a reliable account of at-risk students. 

The cost of absenteeism

School absenteeism can have many detrimental effects on students. It is strongly related to an increased risk of dropping out of school or failing to graduate. One finding suggests that by Year 9, a student’s chances of completing secondary school drop by 20% for every week of school they miss. This demonstrates how the negative effects of absenteeism can be seen early on in a student’s school career, and how they can have a significant impact on their future education. 

A lack of consistent teaching as a result of consecutive absences can dramatically slow down progress. There is a strong association between attendance and academic performance with research suggesting that students with poor attendance often also have poor academic performance. More specifically, findings show that for every class missed, a student’s final exam score is expected to decrease by an average of 2.124%.

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Strategies to reduce absenteeism

The Attendance Playbook written by FutureEd is a fantastic resource which provides an in-depth account of smart solutions for reducing chronic absenteeism. They have organised the interventions to combat absenteeism into three levels, indicating the intensity of support students need relevant to their level of absenteeism. Here is a summary of their advice and the strategies we believe will be the most effective in promoting attendance and helping students raise their game:

Level 1

The strategies at Level 1 aim to encourage better attendance for all students. They also address absenteeism in its early stages, and before it has any negative effects on achievement. Schools must set expectations that are put forward to both parents and students, and must realise that acknowledging improvement is key to maintaining it.

  • Effective messaging and engagement – Sending occasional reminders to parents about absences has shown to improve school attendance. This is simply a chance to make parents aware of how many days their child has missed, as many may not realise. Research found that parents underestimated how many days their child had missed by almost 9 days. When parents became aware of their child’s absenteeism, schools saw a reduction in total absences by 6%, indicating that this is an effective strategy to employ at Level 1.
  • Removing barriers to attendance – Illness remains the number one reason why students miss school. Whilst these are inevitable, the negative effects on student achievement call for change. School-based health clinics have a strong influence on school attendance. They can manage a range of issues from head lice to flu jabs. Evidence suggests that these health clinics can lead to a 30% drop in chronic absenteeism in students with more serious health issues. This demonstrates how changes can be made within the school environment to combat absenteeism. School nurses can work alongside teachers to help determine the best interventions for those at-risk students.
  • Improving school climate – Students are becoming increasingly disengaged with the material they are learning in schools, and this is mainly because they don’t see how it relates to their lives. Although it is not feasible to completely change the curriculum, introducing classes that are more culturally relevant may increase interest and motivate struggling students to be engaged in their learning. Research shows that when an ethnic studies class covered important events such as the Civil Rights Movement and topics like the media’s portrayal of Asians, a significant change was seen. Attendance rates increased by 21%, alongside a positive improvement in student grades. 

Level 2

The intensity of the interventions increases at Level 2. They target students who are already missing 10% of the school year and are therefore at risk of chronic absenteeism. The strategies aim to direct personal attention towards these students and their families and guide them to developing an understanding of the importance of attending school. At this stage, schools work alongside students and families to create a plan to address any barriers they may face regarding attendance. 

  • Effective messaging and engagement – Students can sometimes feel that they don’t belong, and this can have detrimental effects on their academic achievement and attendance. A good relationship between a student and either a teacher, counsellor, or another student that focuses on nurturing the struggling students and enhancing their sense of belonging can reduce absenteeism. Evidence shows that students who regularly met with a mentor were 52% less likely to skip a day of school, compared to those students who didn’t receive this type of support.
  • Removing barriers to attendance – According to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention records, asthma accounts for nearly 14 million missed days of school. A student who suffers from asthma will often experience heightened symptoms of common illnesses, compared to those who don’t. This can lead to extended time away from school as many parents and students fear that schools are unable to handle asthma attacks. Research into school clinics has found that when a full-time nurse is present, students with asthma miss 23% fewer days than students in schools with part-time nurses. Very often, these school clinics also manage mental health issues and can promote mindfulness amongst students. Encouraging them to become more self-aware can improve their well-being overall. 

Level 3

The final level of intervention targets the students who struggle the most with attendance and are missing more than 20% of the school year. This often involves schools, health, housing, and social services agencies working together to manage these problematic cases. 

  • Effective messaging and engagement – Unexcused absences can be linked to issues that are more difficult for families or schools alone to manage. These are situations that are not as common but the concerns surrounding them can be quite intense. They include homelessness, pregnancy, and mental illness, amongst a range of other issues. The key to resolving absenteeism as a result of these is to set up an absence intervention team that can work alongside students that are experiencing these difficulties.

Final thoughts

Absenteeism is a serious issue that must be dealt with as soon as concerns are raised; starting with making parents aware of the negative effects it is having on their child, and when necessary, forming intervention teams to resolve chronic cases. Reversing the effects that absenteeism has on student learning is definitely possible, it just takes the right people working together and employing the appropriate strategies to help students get back on track to academic success.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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