Background to and principles behind our procedures
Attendance is one of the biggest factors in academic success so it is only right that we make it a priority. Roughly speaking, pupils who are in most of the time, meet their target grades and those who are not, don’t.
Prior to 2006, schools were not so proactive about absence. The Government’s National Strategy for Attendance introduced a set of common standards and practices. All schools were expected to make attendance a major priority. They set attendance targets, compared attendance rates of a variety of groups, for example, Year 7 boys, pupils on Free School Meals, pupils with Special Needs, high attaining pupils and so on. Schools began to look for patterns of absence, for example, pupils who are absent on Mondays and Fridays, pupils who are absent on days with common lessons (e.g. absent each time they have PE), pupils with a high number of incomplete weeks and pupils who are absent on the same day as their friends.
One of the most significant changes was that schools could no longer accept that a pupil was ill simply because a parent said so. Schools were expected to challenge parents and, once attendance fell below a certain level, insist on medical evidence before an absence was accepted. Schools were expected to run a first day response system in which they contacted parents of absent pupils to encourage them to attend, to challenge parents to check that the absence is unavoidable and to refuse to authorise some absences.
While this has caused some tension between schools and parents, it cannot be disputed that the more rigorous approach produced a significant increase in attendance. At Macclesfield High, attendance each year was about 90% and at the Academy, where we are putting pressure on pupils and parents to improve attendance, it is about 95%. This has a huge impact on GCSE grades.
What recent research has shown is that pupils who attend 96% of the time or above hit their targets but that attainment drops dramatically once attendance drops from 96% to 93% (which in previous years may have been regarded as good attendance!).
60% of our pupils are currently meeting or exceeding that target of 96% attendance.
A further factor is that in schools where pupils know that absence is closely monitored, they are far less likely to join in with friends who may encourage them to truant or to go in late. Your children are therefore much safer in a school which challenges absence (even though it may feel irritating when you are the parent being challenged!). It is not about trying to ‘catch people out’, but about creating a mind-set or a culture that ‘everybody is in’. As parents ourselves, we know that there are days when that is just not possible, however, we cannot create that culture without challenging absence.
School is about a series of challenges and how you develop as a person while trying to meet those challenges. Developing the self-discipline and determination to get up and get in – even when you don’t feel great – is a key aim of ours and one that produces a rise in academic confidence (because you don’t fall behind.) We want our pupils to know that employers place a high value on an applicant being able to show that they will be in every day and on time.
Therefore, at The Academy, we are determined to maintain a rigorous approach to attendance and set a target for our pupils of 96%.
When pupils are absent
Late to School
One of the changes introduced in 2006 was the category of Persistent Absentee (PA). Pupils who were absent 20% of the time were classed as PA. Pupils who were in danger of dropping into that category were labelled OTPAs (On Track to be PA). Schools have to know the reasons why pupils were in each category and come up with a plan to help or in some cases force each to improve.
If the first half term was 40 days long, a pupil was PA once they had 8 days off (20%).
After a few years, PA became 15% absence and the OTPA figure would be about 12%.
In September 2015 the benchmark became 10%. This meant that pupils who had 4 days off in the first half term became PA.
While we all know that a genuine bout of illness may result in 4 days off, schools are still expected to warn parents that they have moved into that category. In most cases, the child’s attendance gradually returns to a higher level as they move through the year without further absence but the information still has to be given.
Frequently asked questions
Why send a text once we have left a telephone message?
Because sometimes pupils get a friend to pretend to be the parent – so we always check that it was you who sent the text
Why do you not believe parents when they say their child is sick?
There are several reasons for this.
Why do you ask us to send pupils in and later send them home?
Often pupils pick up once they are with friends. Also, because our lessons are 100 minutes long, pupils miss so much in one day’s absence. Many pupils come in for one lesson and when it is clear they cannot continue, they collect the work from the other lessons too so that they do not fall behind.
Why should a pupil who is one minute late receive a detention?
We have to draw a line somewhere. We are trying to teach pupils to organise their time so that they arrive with time to spare rather than aim to arrive at the last possible minute. Having worked in many schools, I have learned that the same pupils will come in at or about the time that the detention is given. Registration starts at 8.40. We used to give a detention to pupils arriving after 8.45 so a group of pupils arrived at 8.46 and argued that they were only 1 minute late, (when in reality they were 6 minutes late). In effect we were saying that it was OK to be late. That was the wrong message. When we moved the late time to 8.40 the same pupils arrived at 8.41. We are trying to teach pupils to develop the personal organisational skills that they will need for life. If they have a job they will need to be there before the start time. We tell pupils therefore that they are expected in school by 8.35 and will be marked late after 8.40. 95% of pupils meet in the dining room at or before 8.30 and only about 10 pupils arrive after that time. As with attendance, the fact that your son or daughter knows that late arrival will be followed up means that they will not be tempted to join friends who want to go somewhere else on the way.
I am happy to discuss this further. If you would like to do so, please send a question by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.