When it comes to student attendance at school, parents and carers have a legal duty to ensure that their child receives an appropriate full-time education. It’s important for students to attend school regularly as a higher attendance has a direct impact on students’ attainment and subsequently their life after education. There will, of course, be absences due to sickness, the occasional family event and appointments, these are things that sometimes cannot be helped. The cause for concern when it comes to attendance and school, is when students are repeatedly missing lessons without valid or any reason at all - the act of which is called 'truancy', also known as bunking off school.
There are a number of reasons why a student may play truant from school - the school have a responsibility to investigate these absences, discover why students aren’t attending and work to find a solution so that students are present and punctual to their lessons so they have the best chance at securing a job post education. This blog will explore the reasons why students may purposefully avoid school and how the school can address these issues:
Common reasons for students skipping school:
When a child is getting bullied at school it may seem to them that the easiest way to avoid bullies is to skip school. If this is the reason for truancy, you have a duty to promote your school’s stance on bullying more effectively in order to stop this from happening and also make sure victims of bullying know how to report this and how to escalate matters to appropriate staff members/adults.
In some social circles skipping class or bunking school can happen as a result of peer pressure. When certain students decide to skip school they can force their peers into doing the same by convincing them it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. As always, reminding students of the consequences of their actions can help to change their actions.
When students have personal issues going on at home it can lead to skipping school for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps their family doesn’t encourage them to attend school, maybe they are having to care for a family member which impacts the time at which they’re meant to be at school or it could be that family life is rough and they want an escape from authority figures and avoid school as a result. Whatever the reason, these are more complex explanations for truancy and will require the help of third parties to help solve the root cause of the issue which stems from home.
Not liking the teacher or subject
The reason for skipping school can be as simple as not enjoying a certain aspect of school, either classmates, the teacher or the subject. Although these reasons are simple, it can be trickier to approach - however, solutions can be made. Making the teacher aware, rewarding attendance or even transferring classes can all be solutions to this reason.
If for whatever reason students feel as though they’ve fallen behind at school because of consistent truanting, long term illness or other reasons it can cause additional absences whereby students avoid school as they feel as though they have fallen too far behind, this is a vicious cycle. For planned long term absences schools can plan an integrated return to school, provide students with class notes and home learning and talk to families about tutors if possible. However, unplanned absences are trickier to cater for, however extra learning, directing students to homework clubs and where possible, teachers providing extra support can help students to catch up on learning they’ve missed.
A lot of our job as teachers centres around prevention - it’s part of our responsibility to identify and recognise issues, intervening before they happen or at an early stage. This is much the case for absenteeism.
How can schools prevent truancy before it happens?
Have a clear attendance policy
Having a clear attendance policy and communicating the importance of being punctual can help students in understanding how beneficial good attendance is. Additionally, this policy should also outlines the consequences of not attending school both on a student’s personal progression, but in the eyes of the law and the impact it can have on families as a consequence of truancy laws.
A lot of our job as teachers centres around prevention - it’s part of our responsibility to identify and recognise issues, intervening before they happen or at an early stage. This is much the case for absenteeism. When you identify a student as a cause for concern, escalate the issue, call for a meeting with parents, introduce an attendance plan and find the root case of the issue. The sooner you address the problem, the easier it is to reverse.
Positive school culture
This may seem somewhat obvious, but by creating a welcoming and positive culture at your school, one where students feel happy and safe, they’re much more likely to attend school. This includes ensuring lessons are engaging and that students want to attend, teachers are approachable, friendly and encouraging and an effective behaviour policy is implemented school-wide. One that encourages positive behaviour and has a zero tolerance to bullying.
Make attendance easy to track & visible
In order to identify unusual absences and provide intervention when necessary, attendance should be routinely monitored and tracked. Having an online system whereby attendance is recorded helps teachers and SLT to quickly notice when certain students have had consecutive days of absence and other unusual punctuality and attendance patterns. Additionally, making students’ attendance average visible to both parents ensures they’re aware of when their child is at school and there are any unexplained absences they want to bring up with the school.
Provide additional support
In more sensitive cases surrounding student absenteeism, it’s important that the school provides additional support, both internally and by linking them with third parties depending on the reasons for their absenteeism. Schools can take special measures like holding spare uniforms and stationery supplies, organising a pickup and drop off service as well as hosting breakfast clubs to avoid students missing school because of these reasons. However, it’s important that schools do refer families to organisations who can help with at home issues that are impacting their child’s learning.
There are many factors of truancy and as such there isn’t a blanket solution you can apply to ensure that all students’ attendance is perfect. However, there are ways in which schools can approach absenteeism to prevent and improve attendance issues. The key takeaway from this is to always find out the root cause for truancy and start at doing your best to resolve this, and always have a consistent approach to attendance so you can effectively communicate the importance of attending school and what it means for students’ futures.