Solutions. Five ways to increase attendance at primary school

Solutions to the attendance crisis are a matter of supporting children and families through policies and practices

Solutions to the attendance crisis are a matter of supporting children and families through policies and practices

2 Apr 2024, 5:00

When we reviewed our school attendance figures at the end of 2021/22, we knew something had to change. Our whole-school attendance was 93.85 per cent and attendance for SEND was 95.1 per cent, both below national attendance of 96.4 per cent. We needed a plan and we needed it fast

Our efforts since have seen us consistently increase the number of children walking through our gates and their access to learning, and they resulted in our school being named ‘Primary provision of the year’ at the latest nasen awards.

Our plan wasn’t a complicated one but one based on continuous communication, monitoring and connecting with families. We drew on our full-time education welfare officer (EWO), whose job it is to make sure our children attend school on time.

Daily monitoring

Our first step was to implement daily meetings between our EWO, SENDCO and headteacher to analyse which children were absent, alongside dedicated weekly meetings to review attendance.  

A new policy announced that a third day of absence would trigger a home visit and welfare phone calls.

All this happened, at the time, against a backdrop of public health warnings including scarlet fever and strep A. In spite of our new practices, all groups took a dip in attendance, however we kept to our robust systems.

Persistent absentees

Our action plan for Spring 2023 focused around identifying persistently absent children. Our weekly data allowed us to give class teachers a list of children who were severely, persistently or at risk of persistent absence.

Our approach was not to sanction or chastise but to support these children and their parents with an friendly and encouraging attitude whenever we saw them.

Adapting policy

To match that disposition, we reviewed and adapted our attendance policy to make it more family-friendly too.

We introduced a ‘soft’ attendance letter before issuing any local authority attendance letters and we invited parents and carers to discuss attendance issues. We also sent out visual communication to show, for example, how a holiday booked in the middle of term could have a detrimental effect on learning.

We also arranged attendance training for all teachers and governors.

Accommodating pupils with SEND

As SENDCO, I attend home visits with our EWO, to identify any reasonable adjustments pupils might need. This might include offering alternative entrances to school or giving children at risk of becoming school refusers a job, such as a morning fruit monitor.

Access to our school dogs, Bella and Honey, has proven to be a big winner. They have supported more than a few children back into school and class!

Supporting parents and carers

During the summer term, and with support from the local authority, we set up a walking bus and morning minibus service for children living out of area.

This helped parents who had to get children to different schools at the same time greatly, as well as those families who were experiencing mental health difficulties.

Our £1-a-day-per-child bus service was initially for our vulnerable groups but has only grown in popularity.

Reeping the rewards

By the end of the 2022/23 academic year, our whole-school attendance had risen to 96.82 per cent against the backdrop of a growing attendance crisis. Our SEND attendance was the highest it has been at 96.22 per cent – still slightly lower than the national average but a great leap forward in a single year.

Our efforts have continued into this academic year, and a marker of the success of our efforts is that our greater focus has now shifted onto persistent lateness.

Many column inches have been dedicated to the attendance crisis. We have done as the children’s commissioner suggested and ‘obsessed’ over attendance, and it has made a huge difference. Higher fines may or may not make a difference nationally, but in our experience the best way to raise attendance at primary is with a helping hand and a welcoming smile.

More from this theme


Academy trusts: From growing pains to gains

As more leaders consider growth, what do we know about how to do this well?

Jack Dyson

Can the new teaching apprenticeship solve recruitment woes?

New route for those without an existing degree will be introduced next year

Freddie Whittaker

How schools with the poorest intakes boosted progress

Heads explain how they improved behaviour, changed leadership and reached outside of the school gates to boost results

Samantha Booth

School funding: Can a ‘magic formula’ cut spend but not standards?

Integrated curriculum financial planning has been around for years, but the government has increasingly seized on its benefits

John Dickens

The knock on the door: A simple solution to poor attendance?

We visited a school where staff did 4,000 home visits in one year to support pupils

Samantha Booth

Can childcare fill primary schools’ empty classrooms?

On-site childcare delivers many benefits for schools, but 'practical issues' face leaders considering renting out vacated spaces

John Dickens

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *