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Improving School Attendance


In the UK, more than 4.1 million children, approximately 11% of all students, miss 12 or more school days each year. The number of such absences varies geographically across towns, communities, and schools. Regular absenteeism can have negative consequences on learning and education in the long term.

Reasons

Students may be absent from school for a variety of reasons. Here are 3 broad categories of typical reasons for skipping classes:

  • Students who are unable to attend school because of illness, family responsibilities and frequent changes of residence.
  • Students who avoid attending school because of fear of psychological pressure and bullying.
  • Parents/guardians, as well as students themselves, who simply do not see the point of attending school

Only a two-day absence a month, for any reason, can become a problem for students due to missing out on vital lessons at school.

Actions

  • Parental involvement. Schools should communicate effectively with all parents and appoint a contact person or consultant who can answer questions about the school. Parental supervision and awareness of their children's attendance contributes to better attendance overall. Schools that build strong partnerships with student families show higher levels of attendance. School counsellors, nurses, and other health experts can play a key role in developing and strengthening such partnerships.

  • Attendance can be increased by integrating the efforts of different concerned parties, including the education system and health care.
  • Encouraging. Special reward programs related to absence can also be developed, e.g. limits per year/term. Students who meet certain numbers will be rewarded with prizes. Students are unlikely to give up if they have a special reward waiting for them soon.    
  • Quarantine. Encouraging students to stay at home while they are ill and preventing the spread of germs is an option. You don't want other students to get the bug!
  • Offering help. You shouldn't forget that the more classes are missed, the more troubles with keeping up will arise. 
  • Reviewing of existing punishment policy.
  • Creating a special plan for a child. Time for homework, healthy sleep, daily wake-up. Make sure your kid gets to school in time (check weather forecasts, your car, and cooperate with other students’ parents/neighbours you trust if necessary).
  • Showing that school matters. Plan your vacation trips in coordination with school breaks. Every day is a lesson and there's no need to miss an opportunity to learn something new. There's plenty to discover at school!

Inspiring example

Stephen Ritz is a regular teacher, a parent who coped with his child's death. The pain of the loss forced him to switch to taking care of other children, and Stephen transferred to one of the most problematic schools of the Bronx, New York.

This school had a lot of violence, poverty, and a graduation rate of only 17%. Many of the students were homeless, others were adopted, dropped out of school after the 9th grade, or failed their final exams. But most importantly, kids were hungry. 99% of Stephen's students needed free lunch and did not have it.

The Southern Bronx is called the "food desert" – a city that does not have access to healthy food. The streets are full of fast food and small shops where only chips and synthetic food can be found. Many Bronx residents (including children) suffer from so-called "food insecurity" because they simply do not know where and when to eat next time.

Stephen concluded that it is precisely because of improper and untimely nutrition that children are unable to focus on their studies, do not attend school, and fail their exams. Strange as it may seem, the changes in the school began with plants.

"They gave me a box of daffodil bulbs, and I hid it behind a radiator because I was afraid that kids would throw them at each other. After a while, someone looked behind the radiator, and discovered hundreds of flowers blooming."

The flowers fascinated the students and so the Green Box Machine project appeared. This is a non-commercial project that aims to educate children in gardening: students learn how to grow and store healthy food in classrooms. They can grow lunch and take some of the food home to share with their parents. It also contributed to youth employment (in the Bronx, youth unemployment was as high as 28%). The project spread quickly throughout New York City.

That changed everything: attendance at the school increased from 40% to 93%, all of his students take the final exam, and the "green school" migrated to classes and to the rooftops of the entire city, far beyond the South Bronx.

About the author: Roy is a tech enthusiast, a loving father of twins, a programmer in a custom software company, editor in chief, greedy reader, and a gardener.

It's important to keep an eye on student wellbeing from a position of responsibility to make sure that everyone is happy, healthy and enjoys coming to school. Here's how you can help to promote mental wellbeing to young people.

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