How to Boost School Attendance

Four years after the beginning of the first UK lockdown, the pandemic is still sending shockwaves through education, particularly when it comes to attendance. With the overall absence rates in England increasing from 4.9% in Autumn Term 2019 to 7.8% in Summer Term 2023, it’s clear that traditional methods of encouraging attendance are no longer as effective. 

That’s left a lot of schools and Trusts wondering how to increase attendance and punctuality across their communities. Here are some of our recommendations for changing your approach to getting students to school on time every day.  

Identify the Cause

There are lots of reasons students may not attend school regularly. A 2023 article from The Guardian summarises some of the main barriers, including: 

  • Mental health issues: In 2023, the NHS estimated that over 20% of 8-16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder, making it difficult for some to leave the house at all.
  • Poverty/housing: Current estimates suggest that 29% of all UK children are in poverty. The complex issues around the cost-of-living crisis can all contribute to low attendance, meaning that the absence rate for pupils who are eligible for free school meals is double the rate for pupils who are not.
  • Parental mindsets: After the disruption of the pandemic, some families have got out of the routine of ensuring children get to school every day. The increase in parents and carers working from home also makes it easier to allow children to stay home.  

Identifying the cause of persistent absence in your school or Trust will inform how you go about tackling it. For example, if parental mindsets are the primary issue, make sure you’re actively engaging with parents and carers to emphasise the impact of attendance on children’s development.   

Try Something New

In the past, using attendance initiatives like reward schemes and certificates might have been enough to motivate students to attend. But now, with shifting attitudes around the importance of coming to school, you might have to think outside the box.  

Think about using film and animation content to educate students and families about the importance of coming to school every day. For groups with persistently poor attendance, think about ways to change mindsets and motivate them to attend.  

Link your approach back to the ‘why’ behind poor attendance. What are the barriers and how can you support families to overcome them? If the main issue is mental health, using harsh sanctions for poor attendance is likely to make the problem worse. Instead, show families that your school or Trust is a safe and supportive environment that can help students to build their confidence and resilience.  

Broaden Your Focus

Traditionally, attendance campaigns have focused on the impact of coming to school on grades, with messaging like ’17 days’ absence is equivalent to one GCSE grade drop’. While this might be enough to motivate some students and families, academic achievement isn’t everyone’s number one priority, and it won’t resonate with all students.  

Of course, attending school offers far more than just grades, including: 

  • Social development: School allows students to build relationships with their peers and teachers that can help them build confidence and other social skills.
  • Building new skills: Both inside and outside the classroom, school is an environment set up to allow students to develop skills like communication, organisation, teamwork and time management that they will need in their next steps.
  • Preparing for employment: Getting used to turning up on time every day prepares students for the realities of employment. 

Focusing on the wider benefits of good attendance will help you reach and engage more students with your attendance campaign.

What Next?

If you’re wondering where to start with your next attendance campaign, we can help. We’ll work with you to understand your school’s context and come up with some creative ideas to reach students and families to boost attendance. 

Get in touch to find out more!