Of all the government guidance about attendance (and there’s lots of it!) I can say with some certainty that you already have 95% of it in place, maybe even 100%! And yet, attendance – or rather non-attendance – is still up there with the team of tasks you need to tackle daily. Research shows that the schools most successful at improving attendance take a holistic approach. These schools are proactive in the use of effective strategies for those struggling with attendance. Shared key elements in these schools are:
- Leaders committed to prioritising attendance.
- Effective early intervention.
- Appropriate support for pupils.
- Active collaboration and engagement.
However, I don’t think I’m making wild assumptions when I say that the profile of the students who skew your attendance data is fragile. They have to be understood from an individual perspective rather than as some kind of negative data. Those persistent late arrivals or absentees are the ones that we can’t easily reach. We can ask them to remove the helmets and armour plating, the costumes and comfort blankets, or the masks and mantles that they’ve intricately crafted to protect them at home, on their way to school, or even in the classroom. However, their emotional and physical safety requires some desperate self-protection, and that’s not going to change with strategies or quick tricks!
Of course, we have to address it, but not because it’s a criterion in assessing a great school. On the contrary, I believe we must go above and beyond the statutory aspects of attendance as headteachers and consider the ethical responsibilities to our pupils.
How on earth do we do that? Let’s explore five techniques to tackle attendance:
- Create a safe space
First, we create a safe space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in, take off the crushing weight of those masks and armour, hang them on a coat peg, and open their hearts to truly being seen. Creating a safe space doesn’t happen overnight and requires the collective support of your teaching staff. A great place to start is by implementing a well-being program. The LifeWise program includes hundreds of lessons and activities developed by experts in child development and mental health to ensure that your teachers seamlessly create a safe space for their students. LifeWise is also very aware that for many teachers, delivering PSHE lessons can be daunting as it may not be their area of expertise. However, all lessons are ready to present and meet Ofsted requirements, so your teachers can feel more confident delivering PSHE content.
- Protect that safe space
Secondly, once we’ve created that safe space, we can protect it. We are the guardians who allow pupils to breathe, be curious, explore the world, and be who they are without suffocation. They deserve at least one place where they can experiment with vulnerability and where they can exhale. The LifeWise approach to sensitive topics gives them some breathing space and focuses on their well-being and emotional security. LifeWise carefully curates each topic to be informative and respectful, ensuring that vulnerable children are protected, and teachers feel empowered to support them.
- A sense of belonging
Thirdly, we should not ever underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong – even if it’s just the one, with just one grown-up, or one peer, who gets them. The LifeWise program actively encourages a sense of belonging through collaborative tasks. LifeWise promotes systematic delivery to allow detailed observation of each individual’s EQ. The possibility to assess where we can help and consider what tailored intervention looks like is the best opportunity to embrace that holistic approach.
- Tackle anxiety culture
Fourthly we can mitigate the anxiety culture. LifeWise provides lessons on managing stress, prioritising, mentally switching between games and tasks so that all students know how to handle feelings of being overwhelmed. Our evidence-backed curriculum on mindfulness and social-emotional learning gives students and staff the shared terminology for labelling and managing emotions, helping to ensure they’ll understand each other when those tricky problems arise.
- A Diverse and engaging curriculum
Finally, we guarantee that the curriculum is diverse, inclusive, yet personalised, vibrant, fun, yet supportive, and it has the proper levels of challenge to engage pupils at every level. We can confidently make you the promise that LifeWise will not only change the trajectory of your attendance data but it can and often does change the course of a child’s life!
It’s a very different world since the dramatic life-altering sweep of the last few years. But even before the global transformation brought on by the pandemic, it was very different from the world I experienced as a pupil.
Implementing interventions can help to build a child’s self-worth, as well as their academic understanding. Children may be less willing participants in the learning process in the larger classroom environment.
I have been so privileged to work with children; I have learned so much from them. I am still privileged and still learning…or perhaps, in these enlightened days,