What is the Importance of School Attendance?

May 16, 2024
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As a child, you may remember being dutifully sent to school every single day, regardless of whether you wanted to or not, because your parents saw 100% attendance as essential to your education. On the other hand, you may have regularly taken weeks out of school during term time so you could go on holiday, because it was cheaper to do so and your school work could easily be caught up on later – which of these scenarios is most familiar to you? Which do you think is the right approach?

In this article, we’ll look at the importance of school attendance and why, as a parent or carer, you have a responsibility to ensure your child attends school every day of the week. We’ll also look at the effects of poor school attendance on educational attainment and provide teachers with a few ideas on how to improve attendance in their setting.

Is School Attendance Mandatory?

In the UK, all children of compulsory school age (5 to 16) are legally entitled to a full-time education based on their age, aptitude and special educational needs. For parents and carers, it’s a legal responsibility to ensure that their child receives that education, whether by attending a school or by home-schooling. For children who attend a school, parents are legally required to ensure their child attends school regularly – meaning every day the school is open.

A group of children at the school library

The UK government provides only a few specific circumstances where it’s permitted for your child to be absent from school:

  1. Your child is too ill to attend. 
  2. You have asked in advance and been given permission by the school for your child to be absent on a specific day due to exceptional circumstances. Note that school leaders are responsible for determining what counts as an exceptional circumstance.
  3. Your child cannot go to school on a specific day because they are observing a religious event. 
  4. Your local authority is responsible for arranging your child’s transport to school and it’s not available or has not been provided yet. 
  5. Your child does not have a permanent address and you are required to travel for work. 

Holidays are not considered an exceptional circumstance or an acceptable reason for a child to miss school and you may receive a fine for taking your child out of school for a holiday. Currently, the national framework requires schools to consider a fine when a child has missed 10 or more sessions (5 days) for unauthorised reasons.

Working Together to Improve School Attendance

The Working Together to Improve School Attendance guidance from the Department of Education is non-statutory guidance that aims to to help schools, trusts, governing bodies and local authorities maintain high levels of school attendance.

In 2021/22, the overall school absence rate was 8.5%, with 22.5% of pupils being ‘persistently absent’ from education, equivalent to 1.6 million children. The absence rate is estimated to be 6.9% for 2023/24. Furthermore, in 2019, data showed that 84% of Key Stage 2 pupils with 100% attendance achieved the expected standard, compared to just 40% of pupils who were persistently absent.

A group of children walking to school

Working Together to Improve School Attendance states that ‘improving attendance is everyone’s business’. This means it is the responsibility of everyone involved – parents, carers, schools and the local authority – to ensure children access the education they’re entitled to.

There are many reasons why children may miss education, so the aim of the school should always be to create an environment that is supportive, calm, orderly and safe where all children are welcomed and keen to learn. Schools should work alongside parents and families to help remove any barriers to school attendance – ensuring children feel safe and supported in the classroom is an essential first step.

The Working Together guidance explains that schools, teachers, parents, carers and local authorities should work collaboratively to:

  • Expect – aspire to high standards of attendance from all pupils and build a culture where all children want to be in school.
  • Monitor – rigorously use attendance data to identify patterns of poor attendance as soon as possible so all parties can work together to resolve them.
  • Listen and understand – when a pattern of absence is spotted, discuss it with students and parents to listen to and understand the barriers to attendance, and agree how they can be resolved.
  • Facilitate support – remove barriers in school and help students and parents to access any support they need to overcome the barriers outside of school.
  • Formalise support – where absence from school persists and voluntary support is not working or not being engaged with, the consequences must be clearly explained.
  • Enforced – if support is not working or not being engaged with, attendance should be enforced through statutory intervention or prosecution.

Furthermore, all schools have a responsibility under the Working Together to Improve School Attendance guidance to proactively manage and improve attendance. This means promoting the benefits and importance of good attendance, setting high expectations for students, communicating expectations clearly and continually looking for where efforts can be improved.

Students at school

To manage and improve attendance effectively, the guidance expects all schools to: 

  • Develop and maintain a whole school culture that promotes the benefits of high attendance. 
  • Have a clear school attendance policy which all staff, pupils and parents understand. 
  • Accurately complete admission and, with the exception of schools where all pupils are boarders, attendance registers and have effective day to day processes in place to follow-up absence.
  • Regularly monitor and analyse attendance and absence data to identify pupils or cohorts that require support with their attendance and put effective strategies in place. 
  • Build strong relationships with families, listen to and understand barriers to attendance and work with families to remove them.
  • Share information and work collaboratively with other schools in the area, local authorities, and other partners when absence is at risk of becoming persistent or severe.
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Effects of Poor School Attendance

The importance of school attendance should not be underestimated, as poor school attendance can have a significant impact on a child’s wellbeing, as well as their educational attainment. Parents should also avoid being ignorant about attendance percentages – whilst 90% attendance may look good on paper, in reality it equates to about 2 weeks of missed schooling.

Whilst it’s proven that those pupils with higher attendance perform better in exams and formal assessments, such as GCSEs and A Levels, school attendance is also important because it helps your child to:

  • Develop social skills with teachers and other adults beyond their families.
  • Build friendships and relationships with peers.
  • Stay safe in a supervised environment.
  • Access extra-curricular opportunities, such as music and sport.
  • Access consistent pastoral care.

Poor school attendance means children miss out on these experiences and opportunities, which in turn impacts negatively on their achievement, wellbeing and wider development. This is why it’s so important that children are in the classroom as many days as possible.

Child walking home from school

How to Improve School Attendance

There are many barriers to school attendance, both inside and outside of the school environment, and some children struggle to go to school for a variety of reasons. However, with the right guidance and support, these barriers to attendance can be removed by both school staff and parents.

If you are a parent or carer of a child who is struggling to attend school, then the school and your local authority have a responsibility to help you. The school should contact parents and carers to find out what the reasons for absence are and to discuss what can be done to support the family. If the problem lies within the school environment, then the school has responsibility for working with the child to overcome the issues. You can find out more on accessing support to help your child attend school in the DfE’s guidance document.

If you are a teacher or school leader, then below are some useful tips on how to improve school attendance within your setting:

Understand the Causes of Poor Attendance

Teachers should make the effort to understand the reasons why children may miss days of school or why a child may become missing in education. The reasons for poor attendance are likely to be different at different ages. For example, parents of nursery children may not think school attendance is important at such a young age, primary school children may lack a regular routine at home that persistently makes them late, or older children may not have the money to afford school transport. Many attendance problems can be easily resolved if teachers take the time to investigate, understand and listen to students and their families.

Create a Positive Learning Environment

A positive learning environment makes school appealing, comfortable, safe and welcoming for all students. If you can establish a positive learning environment at your school, it will help to reduce any anxieties pupils have and encourage them into the classroom. A positive environment also consists of teachers and leaders who act as positive role models for children and young people – aim to model the behaviours and skills you want your students to copy, such as following a routine, punctuality and communication.

Reward Good School Attendance

Many schools, particularly primary schools, offer an incentive to reward pupils with high school attendance. You could award points or prizes for students who achieve above 95% attendance for the year, as well as put the percentage in their annual school report to communicate the figure to parents.

Work With Individual Students

It’s important for teachers to always adapt their approach for each individual student who is struggling to attend school. This means recognising individual achievements and offering direct praise if a student has improved their attendance. More specific actions include teaching students about morning routines to improve punctuality, giving students specific responsibilities that motivate them to come to school and ensuring transport has been arranged for students to be able to get to school.

A teacher and a child having a one to one

Establish a School Attendance Improvement Plan

A school attendance improvement plan is a simple document that sets out the strategies the school uses to help improve attendance. Establishing an action plan can help your school to tackle unauthorised absences, develop a student attendance policy and accurately record and analyse absence data. School attendance improvement plans can also be created for individual students to help monitor their individual reasons for absence, their targets, their attendance expectations and the support available to them.

Ensure Effective Communication About School Attendance

Strong communication is an important part of improving school attendance, both with parents and with students. Schools must clearly and consistently communicate their expectations about attendance and explain what happens in instances of non-attendance. This could be in the classroom, in school assemblies or through parent/carer newsletters, for example.

Always involve and engage families as much as possible when communicating your attendance expectations so that they fully understand what both good and poor attendance look like. For example, state clearly that the school does not authorise holidays during term-time, explain what happens at the very start of the school day and why it shouldn’t be missed, and regularly emphasise the links between good school attendance and educational achievement.

Overall, it’s clear to see that the importance of school attendance cannot be underestimated. Regular school attendance not only improves a child’s educational achievement, but it also improves their wellbeing and helps them to develop important life skills. By following the Working Together guidance, carefully monitoring absences and setting clear expectations with families, your school can easily act to improve attendance rates.

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