This post was written as part of my day job for Community Brands / Assembly: https://assembly.education/monitoring-improving-attendance/.
The Attendance Challenge
There is no bigger challenge in school leadership in 2022 than monitoring and improving school attendance. Despite the incredible progress in remote learning, we know students achieve best when taught face-to-face by subject specialists. During the initial lockdowns, and then the disrupted landscape of in-school contact tracing through 2020-21, it was incredibly difficult to assess attendance, and get a feel for how your school was doing compared to others. As isolations for contacts have reduced, the true impact of Covid on overall school attendance is becoming clearer.
Where are we now?
National DfE statistics show that 315,000 students were absent in the first week of term this year because of Covid, alongside 1 in 12 teaching staff. Absence varies considerably by age (year 11 continue to be the worst affected) and region (Covid absence varies from 5.1% in London on 16th Dec to 2.6% in North East and Yorkshire and Humber).
As ever, the team at fft education datalab have analysed trends in detail. At the end of the first half term this year they showed that attendance nationwide had improved from 2020, but was still way off 2019 levels. Secondary absence was 9.7% compared to 5.6% in 2019.
Persistent Absence (PA) figures are particularly stark. I don’t know a senior leader in schools that hasn’t calculated PA this year and had a mild heart attack – I know I did several times through the Autumn term. FFT analysis of PA shows that 25% of primary school students have met the traditional definition of persistent absence (greater than 10% of possible sessions) so far this year. This grows to 35% in secondary schools, and a frankly terrifying 50% of disadvantaged year 11 pupils.
What can school leaders do?
Accurate recording of attendance is crucial. If you are not already, it is sensible to use the approved sub-codes when recording absences that are related to Covid.
Sadly, there is little more school leaders can do to impact on X and I coded absences this year. However, it is important not to lose sight of the other authorised and unauthorised absences that sit behind these. Monitoring these absences across MATs, schools, year groups and key cohorts of students should continue as it always has.
The added complexity of attendance monitoring due to the pandemic shouldn’t be underestimated. Contacting parents to clarify covid/illness status, editing codes and sub-codes, recording test results, organising testing, the list goes on. Ensuring that you have allocated the right staff to the right jobs is crucial. If you have one attendance officer who is an expert in getting vulnerable students back to school, having them spend their day ascertaining exactly which covid sub-code to allocate to an unavoidable absence is madness. Investing staff time in the right areas, and ensuring that you have effective tools in place to process and analyse data is key.
Identifying new trends in absence data
The pandemic has impacted so many areas of society, different socio-economic groups, different industries and occupations. Identifying new trends in your absence data allows school leaders to direct their (increasingly limited) resources where they are most needed and can have the greatest impact. Has absence changed between boys & girls? Do your year group absences follow national trends or differ? Can you spot patterns in unauthorised absences and your pastoral and safeguarding data that indicate a student or a family requiring early intervention? Services such as CAMHS become ever more stretched and schools are taking on more of a burden in this area. It is critical with resources as tight as they are that intervention is focussed early and accurately.
What can governors and trustees do?
Governors and trustees have an important role to act as the critical friend to school leaders. Asking the right questions is key.
What to ask in 2022:
– How does our absence compare to up to date national and regional data?
– Which year groups / sub-groups have been most impacted by Covid absences?
– What are we doing to support learning of students who are isolating?
– Have we seen rises in authorised/unauthorised absence in any key groups?
– What have we done to ensure that our pastoral team/attendance officer can continue to focus on improving absence, without drowning in Covid related administration?
– Do we have the right tools to quickly and effectively monitor absence across our school/trust?
These are indeed unprecedented times. If you’re a school leader looking at your attendance figures and panicking, then take a deep breath and have a look at some of the stats above again. You’re already keeping a school running and delivering face to face learning in the midst of a global pandemic – that’s incredible! Delve a little deeper into your data, look beyond the X & I codes and see what is happening with other forms of absence that you may have more of a chance of impacting.
Assembly offers a suite of data analysis products for MATs to allow trust and school leaders to efficiently analyse data taken live from their MIS. Our products are designed to save you time and allow you to spend that time having a positive impact on the young people in your care. If you’d like to speak to me or any member of the team please contact us here!
Data Trends – News & Articles you may have missed:
- Sam Freedman explains why it’s time to ditch attempts to tackle exam inflation this year.
- Up to 2,500 secondary school students from between 60 and 100 schools will trial online GCSEs.
- PowerBI’s December update included the addition of sparklines (in Preview for now) – expect to start seeing these creep into our Assembly Pro dashboards once they are out of preview.
- David Didau discusses the purpose of assessment and differentiates between ‘discriminatory assessment’ and ‘mastery assessment.’
- Matthew Evans discusses the purpose of measurements in schools and differentiates between measuring the ‘nature’ or ‘standard’ of something .
- Schoolsweek highlights a report from NFER explaining that the increasing numbers of pupil premium students mean comparing the group over time will become statistically problematic.