Attendance

How we’ve come top of the table for our attendance success

Our schools’ competitive spirit is driving us to better and better attendance – but a league table like ours must be part of a wider approach

Our schools’ competitive spirit is driving us to better and better attendance – but a league table like ours must be part of a wider approach

26 May 2024, 5:00

Everyone likes a bit of healthy competition, right? Whether it’s the title race in the Premiership or the fight for the Christmas number one spot, friendly rivalry can prove beneficial. This is why we introduced trust-wide league tables as one strand of our ongoing bid to drive up attendance.

Schools up and down the country are being tasked with improving attendance. Our trust sees consistently above national average attendance levels, but there is always more we can do.

Our attendance league table is a way to drive that for all our pupils. It includes overall, year-to-date, pupil premium and SEND attendance, as well as the number of late arrivals and missing marks (which contribute over time to lost learning hours).

It’s sent out every Monday and includes the national benchmarks to baseline against. We have adapted the metrics to ensure weekly attendance is mapped against year-to-date so that the table is not static with the same “winners” each week. 

Each school also sends out a weekly newsletter that includes attendance data so parents can be part of the process.

Lessons learned

Needless to say, league tables aren’t always popular (just ask relegated Sheffield United). When it was first introduced, ranking the weekly attendance rates across our demographically diverse multi-academy trust received a mixed response. Some saw it as a challenge to rise to, others were less competitive. Presenting the data using the weekly average against the year-to-date gave everyone a fighting chance of coming top.

Another hurdle was the time commitment to not only implementing the systems to capture the data but training the staff to interpret the figures and use them in a meaningful way. Ultimately this takes people time to process and apply.

But this league table is just one small strand of our approach to driving up attendance. The key to making it work is ensuring everyone feels supported to compete, and that they’re doing it on an even field.

Inclusion at the heart

A central part of our wider, inclusive approach has been significant investment in supporting the wellbeing and mental health of colleagues and pupils. We’ve built three inclusion units specialising in aspects of ASD and SEMH, bringing additional expertise into our schools’ ecosystem.

And rather than bemoan a lack of external services, we have contracts for specialist support including educational psychologists and speech and language therapists as well as a partnership with the Northamptonshire NHS Integrated Care Board mental health transformation team. As a result, mental health support teams are embedded in our schools.

Positive relationships, an engaging curriculum, staff development, the physical estate and infrastructure – supplemented by a support package for wellbeing and mental health – are what makes our pupils want to be in school.

Targeting resources

But we also need the nudge factor, and we do that by tracking attendance to target resources effectively. Over the past year we have become increasingly forensic.

To enable this, we have one shared IT platform and management information system. Its bespoke range of dashboards enables trust-wide scrutiny by our central data analyst, Gregory Dabor. All trusts need a Gregory.

However, to ensure attendance is a trust-wide focus we also make the dashboards and systems accessible to everyone according to their role, including the governance functions. As a result, anyone can cut the data in any way and present it clearly for use.

We’ve also worked with family liaison teams to co-produce template letters, emails and texts for schools’ use, including where attendance is positive.

And to complement all of that, we also have a clearly defined behaviour curriculum, which  includes contracts with parents to build a partnership and maximise impact.  With one of the 30 DfE national behaviour hub schools in our trust, we know that clear, positive and consistent expectations are what allow schools to feel safe and welcoming places to learn.

Attendance will fluctuate. People may fall ill or go on holiday. Some have long-term needs and some have cultural and religious duties.

But if the curriculum is right and attendance is everyone’s priority, then all will thrive – regardless of who wins the league.

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