Pupil attendance has come under the microscope in recent months as schools and ministers look to tackle a post-Covid problem. In this article*, Louise Pink, former primary school headteacher and now our Senior Customer Success MAT Manager, provides valuable insights on the role technology can play in making improvements.
In the fast-paced world of a school, there can be a seemingly endless list of areas to address, from pastoral to academic and everything in between.
Attendance is one of the critical areas that senior leaders are keenly focused on fixing, and understandably so: it is important both in terms of young people’s engagement and learning, and for external authorities such as Ofsted.
It’s especially pressing in the wake of the pandemic, with a House of Commons committee launching an inquiry to investigate the reasons behind poor attendance and to develop effective strategies to address them.
In the meantime, there are now numerous edtech offerings that can help your school to improve in this vitally important area, from absence trackers to simple smart seating plan apps. So, where should schools begin when looking to bring edtech on board for attendance?
“It’s about finding a solution to prevent children from missing out on their education. It’s very hard to catch up once a pupil misses key lessons,” says Louise Pink, a former primary school headteacher, now an adviser at edtech specialist ParentPay Group. “Of course, there is also a safeguarding issue, in that schools need to know where a pupil is at all times.”
The edtech options here are incredibly powerful, with joined-up, intelligent systems offering a revolutionary new approach to an issue that has long plagued education. So how can edtech help?
EdTech solutions to boost school attendance: Real-time data: a whole new perspective
Edtech tools can be great for producing data, but it’s crucial to make sure that this is the kind of data you actually want and need. When it comes to attendance, this increasingly means real-time information, which can revolutionise tracking and allow staff to follow up on incidents of unauthorised absence.
“Schools have been recording attendance for generations,” says Pink, “but now they want to be able to predict and act on absence immediately - using technology to understand trends and where there may be issues.
“We’ve gone from having one administrative computer in the school office to having classroom access to admin data and processes. This simply means that a school can know, in real time, if a pupil is absent from school or even a lesson - enabling the management team to focus on the issue straight away. Instant transfer and availability of absence data is critical.”
A better way of talking to parents
The way schools talk to parents about attendance can make all the difference when it comes to the issue being taken seriously, says Lal Chadeesingh, a principal adviser in the Behavioural Insights Team’s education team - and edtech can play a vital role in getting the message across in the right way.
Chadeesingh highlights how most schools “tend to express attendance as a percentage” in their communication with parents, which can be “confusing and may not clearly signal a problem when one exists”.
“In a school context, ‘90 per cent attendance’ can sound positive but actually it reflects around 15 days of school missed,” he explains.
Drawing on research from the US, which showed that sending letters to parents reduced chronic absenteeism by more than 10 per cent, he and his team have been experimenting with sending automated text messages, and have found that sending these to “nudge” parents has a “statistically significant” impact on attendance.
Pink agrees: “It can be extremely powerful if you can make communication about absenteeism more personal. By interrogating attendance data you can spot trends that might reveal that pupil A often misses school on a Monday, and can send a timely text to a parent or carer on a Sunday evening. By highlighting the exciting learning experiences that are happening in school the next day, offering support to get them to school, or showing that missing a day a week adds up to a 39-day loss of learning for their child at the end of the year, you could prompt them to make sure their child is ready for school for the next day.”
Such systems can be implemented simply and seamlessly with edtech, creating a powerful tool to bolster links between home and school and ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.
An extra support system for staff
Any new tool should be used to empower staff conversations around attendance, rather than adding to staff workload or mental burden. That means that the right training and introduction is vital when bringing in a new system, as well as ensuring buy-in in relation to the process in general.
Speaking to Tes about how to find the right edtech, former multi-academy trust CEO David Moran advises schools to “speak to colleagues and collaborate”.
“Involve and invest in your people,” he says. “Plan to communicate with and develop your people through regular updates and training opportunities. The success of any change programme depends on the quality of the people implementing it.”
Pink agrees: “It’s about staff comfort with technology. Are teachers comfortable and skilled with using the tools that they’re put in front of? Of course, devices that staff are familiar with help but it is also incredibly important not to embarrass someone when introducing new technology because confidence helps people use tech well.”
But when implementation is managed in the right way, staff can have the reassurance and confidence of an added safety net of a system to support them in doing what they’re there for: ensuring that young people can learn to the best of their ability.
*This article was originally published on Tes