Keeping Up Attendances

Dame Dana Ross-Wawrzynski, CEO Bright Futures Educational Trust, responds to Government plans to dock child benefit for parents who refuse to pay truancy fines

At the Conservative Party Conference earlier this month David Cameron announced plans to take tougher action against parents of children that are repeatedly absent from school. Under new measures, parents who refuse to pay truancy fines will face having their child benefit docked. The Prime Minister’s determination to “tackle the harm truancy does to a child’s chances in life” should be commended, as it recognises a real problem in our schools that needs addressing. There is a lot that can be done within schools, from the classroom level upwards, to keep attendance high and ensure that children have continued access to the best possible education.

Bright Futures Educational Trust utilises a collaborative network of respect and understanding between the school, parents and child as the best way to keep attendance up. This begins in the classroom with positive student-teacher relationships built on trust; it means offering an engaging curriculum delivered with teaching methods designed to inspire; and it requires the provision of a safe and secure learning environment. Further to this, it requires that schools make efforts to reach out to parents and get them more involved in their child’s education. And it continues with the good work that is being done by many to position schools within the heart of communities.

A good child-teacher relationship can be a crucial factor in attendance and attainment. Teachers that are willing to go that extra mile to make real connections with their students are often the catalyst for pupils achieving their full potential and beyond.

The teaching of mindfulness can also play an important role in how children feel about coming to school. Mindfulness lessons help children learn about how to recognise their feelings and body responses to their emotions. The aim is to empower students from a young age to be able to assess the world around them, and learn how they can best fit into it. In schools where mindfulness lessons have been rolled out, children and staff talk about feeling calmer and having more resources to manage the challenges in their lives.

Getting parents on board with these efforts is key. Teachers and welfare teams need to work alongside parents to ensure that every child feels supported in their progression. Regular communication and progress meetings can have a big impact, whether this is at a parents evening or a quick phone call once a month.

Stanley Grove Primary Academy, a school in Manchester where English isn’t the first language for many of its families, has adopted an innovative approach to building stronger relationships with parents. Adults in the local community are invited to attend special adult learning classes to help raise their English and academic skills. These community classes not only offer a chance to learn, they also bring people together and position the school as a local hub for community engagement where positive change can become a reality.

Summer programmes are another effective method of maintaining strong relationships between schools and communities. In his conference speech, David Cameron announced his intent to give families the right to request that their schools provide childcare during the holidays. Summer clubs provide invaluable support to parents during a period when managing childcare can be extremely difficult. At Cedar Mount Academy, a school in a community where many of its students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, summer programmes have given pupils the chance to take on exciting challenges and learn new skills – and give their parents some much needed respite!

Keeping attendance up has to start within schools, and then extend out to the local community. Building and nurturing those vital relationships between the child, school, parents and local community is needed to prevent any child slipping through the cracks. Through creating this supportive network, it is possible to ensure that an understanding is ingrained in every child that school is not just a place where they need to be, but a place where they want to be.