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Map bullying ‘hotspots’ to cut absence – report

Leaders should map out “hotspot” areas in school that make pupils feel unsafe in a bid to boost attendance, according to new research.

ImpactEd has published its final Understanding Attendance Project report, after analysing data from over 300,000 pupils and surveying 70,000 youngsters this year.

An interim report based on the autumn term also warned more focus was needed on a “second transition” for pupils moving from year 7 to 8.

Here is what the final report found and recommended…

1. Pay attention to physical and social environment 

The report said schools found success in identifying “hotspot” areas that were associated with disruptive behaviour. 

At Outwood Academy Bishopsgarth, in Stockton-on-Tees, they gave pupils who felt less safe a map of the school and asked them to mark areas as red, amber and green. 

A toilet block, dining hall and busy corridor were rated red and in many cases the low sense of safety was linked with bullying.

Leaders then implemented more robust procedures on movement around the school, increased duty staff and used “appropriate sanctions” where pupils were not “safe, respectful or responsible”. 

ImpactEd also said interventions that “foster wellbeing and mental health” more generally can also impact attendance.

2. Start of the year is ‘crucial’ 

Attendance rates nationally were highest at the start of the year, falling from 90.9 per cent in the first half of autumn to 88.5 per cent by summer half term. This was the case for both disadvantaged pupils and their non-disadvantaged peers. 

ImpactEd found the steepest decline in attendance between the first half of autumn and the second half. This was mirrored in the social and emotional data reported by youngsters, especially in year 7.

Source ImpactEd report

Researchers said a “strong start” to attendance routines could have “significant benefits” for the rest of the year. 

3. ‘Belonging’ continues to be key 

ImpactEd found a “sense of belonging” still proved key in helping attendance. 

More than 80 per cent of pupils said they were aware of the consequences of missing lessons.

Instead the key driver appeared to be relationships. Only 62 per cent of pupils agreed their “school cares when I miss school” and just 52 per cent agreed “my teacher cares when I missed school”.

Researchers warned this pointed to a “potential disconnect” in young people’s perception of attendance. 

Suggested solutions included greeting pupils by name, which can help build a sense of “personal connectedness”, and training staff to talk explicitly about belonging.

ImpactEd also suggested focusing on small communities and specialist support. For example, focusing on small groups like form groups and after school clubs as ways to engage.

Schools could also bring in specialists to engage with local communities, such as those fluent in a family’s first language. 

4. Targeted approach to intervention

ImpactEd said alongside whole cohort policies and strategies on attendance, schools found “in-depth engagement with a small group of pupils to be particularly beneficial”. This focused on building “deep relationships”.

At Education South West trust, all staff have been trained in making individual connections with pupils, including welcoming them into school, engaging them and making them “feel valued”.

After six weeks, 11 out of the 14 secondary pupils with high levels of absence saw attendance improve. 

5. Attendance as everyone’s job 

Researchers said attendance was not a “discrete” issue and was “everyone’s job”. They said it was affected by “everything that goes on in school and needs to be viewed holistically”.

Shifting from “a punitive to a collaborative model” can be achieved by “elevating staff and parental voice”. Using student leadership as part of this can be “powerful”.

Pupils’ enjoyment of lessons should not be forgotten, they added. High quality teaching and an effective curriculum contribute to a school being a “place pupils want to be”.

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