The opening days of school conjure up images of backpacks stuffed with notebooks and unsharpened pencils, bulletin boards freshly decorated by teachers, and pupils showing off new clothes to old friends.
But even in these early days of the new school year, some pupils already are heading toward academic trouble: They’re missing too many days of school. Across the country, some pupils miss nearly a month of school every year—absences that can correlate with poor performance at every level.
This trend starts as early as nursery and continues through secondary school, contributing to achievement gaps and ultimately to dropout rates.
This year, Blaenau Gwent is recognising September as Attendance Awareness Month, to convey the message that every school day counts.
We can’t afford to think of absenteeism as simply an administrative matter. Good attendance is central to pupil achievement and our broader efforts to improve schools. All of our investments in curriculum and teaching won’t amount to much if pupils aren’t in school to benefit from them.
Problems with absenteeism start surprisingly early: Research shows that one in 10 nursery and reception pupils are persistently absent, meaning that they miss 20 percent of the school year because of authorised and unauthorised absences.
Persistent absence can have consequences throughout a child’s academic career, especially for those pupils living in poverty, who need school the most and are sometimes getting the least. Children who are persistently absent in nursery and reception are less likely to read proficiently by the end of Key Stage 1, and pupils who don’t read well by that critical juncture are more likely to struggle in school. They are also more likely to be persistently absent in later years, since they never developed good attendance habits.
By the end of KS2, persistent absence becomes one of the leading indicators that a child will drop out of secondary school.Persistent absence isn’t just about truancy or wilfully skipping school. Instead, children stay home because of illness, unreliable transport, housing issues, bullying or simply because their parents don’t understand how quickly absences add up—and affect school performance.
After all, 36 days is only four days a month in a typical school year. This is true whether absences are authorised or unauthorised, whether they come consecutively or sporadically throughout the school year.
So how can we turn this around?
A key step will be letting families know about the critical role they play in getting children to school on time every day. It’s up to parents to build a habit of good attendance, enforce bedtimes and other routines and avoid holidays while school is in session. Teachers will reinforce these messages and, when they can, offer fun incentives for those pupils who show the best attendance or most improvement.
We are also going to take a closer look at our attendance numbers to see how many pupils are missing 20 percent or more of school days and who they are. Blaenau Gwent CBC will set attendance targets with YGTCS; just as we use test scores to measure the progress that pupils and schools are making, we will look at persistent absence rates.