Schools with ‘promising’ attendance initiatives sought for EEF study

New research project launched after analysis finds current evidence on how to boost attendance is 'weak'

New research project launched after analysis finds current evidence on how to boost attendance is 'weak'

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Schools with “promising” initiatives to boost attendance are being sought for a new grant-funded study, after a report concluded evidence on what works is currently “weak”.

Analysis by the Education Endowment Foundation found contacting parents of persistently-absent pupils by letter or text can help improve attendance, and work to tackle the root cause of absence also showed positive effects.

But the jury is still out on other approaches, prompting the EEF to team up with the Youth Endowment Fund for a new study of English schools’ initiatives.

Tackling persistent absence is a priority for ministers, who fear the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue. In 2018-19, 10.3 per cent of pupils were persistently absent. Data obtained by children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza suggests this rose to 22 per cent last autumn.

The EEF looked at findings from 72 studies that aimed to improve attendance. It found “some evidence of promise” for strategies focusing on parental engagement.

For example, one study saw parents supplied with “personalised information” emphasising the “value of regular school attendance” and reporting the number of days their child had been absent. Under another, “nudge letters” were sent to parents of those persistently absent.

The analysis also found a positive impact from approaches which focused on addressing the root cause of persistent absence.

‘Not enough evidence’ on mentoring or behaviour

In one study, social workers identified barriers to attendance and intervened to overcome them. Intervention could include, for example, assigning a “walking buddy” for a pupil with high absence due to transport issues.

However, wider evidence on improving attendance is “weak”. For example, there was “not enough evidence” to reach a conclusion for the efficacy of mentoring or behaviour approaches.

Professor Becky Francis

Of the 72 studies analysed, all but three took place in the United States, “limiting the applicability of their findings to the English context”.

The EEF and YEF will now “find, fund, and evaluate” programmes and practices “that could both keep children safe from involvement in violence and improve academic attainment, by ensuring they attend, positively engage with, and remain in school/college”.

They are seeking applications from schools in England and Wales with “promising initiatives that could improve attendance and reduce exclusions”. Priority areas include anti-bullying, social and emotional learning and targeted family engagement.

EEF chief executive Professor Becky Francis said teachers “deserve a much clearer picture of how best to support their pupils who are persistently absent”.

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