Engaging with parents to improve pupil attendance

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St Helens

Through a combination of after-school classes for pupils and wider family engagement, staff at St Helen’s Primary School have reduced pupil absence and created an inclusive learning environment.

Number of pupils:  228
Age range:  3-11
Date of Inspection:  February 2016

Information about the school

St Helen’s Primary School is in the centre of the city of Swansea.  There are 228 pupils aged between 3 and 11 years at the school.  There are eight mainstream classes including part-time nursery provision.

The school serves a diverse ethnic community and there are currently 22 different languages spoken by pupils at the school.  Eighty-eight per cent of pupils have English as an additional language.  Thirteen per cent of pupils are white – British ethnicity.  Approximately 16% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.  This is lower than the national average (20%).  A very few pupils are looked after by the local authority.

The school has identified 32% of pupils as having additional learning needs.  This is above the average for Wales (25%).  Very few pupils have a statement of special educational needs.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

The school’s motto is ‘All Different, All Equal’ and the school mission statement is ‘Expect the best, give the best, be the best.’  St. Helen’s Primary continually strives to improve provision, support and opportunities for its families in need, and believes that it is possible to raise academic achievements and self-esteem in order to break the cycle of poverty and build on the positive attitudes this creates.

One of the most important factors of the pupil deprivation grant (PDG), which has led to identification, implementing and developing a number of initiatives, has been the aim to place St Helen’s Primary at the heart of the community.  Due to having such a variety of linguistic and cultural backgrounds amongst its pupils, leaders felt that it was important to strengthen links with the indigenous community to ensure a clearer understanding of the shared values.  The need to improve English language skills to encourage communication was a priority when the government introduced the grant.  In addition, the school identified a number of adult learning classes, which would encourage further interaction. 

Description of nature of strategy or activity identified as sector-leading practice

The school initially identified a need to engage its pupils and improve its partnerships with parents and the diverse community that it serves.  In achieving this successfully, leaders advertised classes, which would encourage further interaction between the school and the parents in the surrounding area as well as to parents of existing pupils.  It then introduced initiatives for the pupils in need, in order to establish a comprehensive family engagement programme.

The school’s Family Engagement team has been able to support and run after-school provision.  This includes a Magazine Club, which produces a monthly edition, a weekly Reading Club to inspire struggling readers, a Young Writers Club that extends pupils’ literacy skills and a mathematics programme for those pupils that staff have identified as being more able and talented.  In class, the team supports mathematics in key stage 2 and teaches pupils in ability groups for literacy.  The school holds one-to-one tutoring sessions for ‘catch-up’ learners and runs group sessions to improve pupils’ behaviour, confidence and wellbeing.  In addition, all pupils eligible to receive free school meals receive a nurture session in which staff concentrate on any concerns or strengths that they may have for that individual.

Family engagement is continually developing and staff have started to train parents to enable them to support and share their skills with other parents.  In the future, the school plans to train adults with expertise in a variety of languages, to enable it to access as many families as possible who are in need of guidance.

The positive family interaction that the school has nurtured has enabled it to tackle attendance and holidays taken during term-time. 

Parents have acted positively to advice offered during the school’s holiday interviews with the PDG team.  As a result, pupils take fewer holidays during term time and attendance is now a significant strength of the school.  After-school provision concentrates on the wellbeing and confidence of pupils.  Staff target specific pupils specifically to provide for their particular needs.  As a result, the impact is evident relatively quickly.  This allows staff to support a high number of pupils throughout the year, whilst continuing to monitor those pupils who are no longer receiving targeted provision, ensuring that they continue to make good progress.

What impact has this work had on provision and pupils’ standards?

  • Improved outcomes and confidence for targeted pupils
  • Improved attendance and a reduction of holidays taken in term-time
  • Improved parental confidence
  • Better relationships with parents and their increased participation in school life
  • Improved links with the wider community and other agencies
  • A truly inclusive learning environment

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared this good practice informally at cluster level and hosted visits by staff from other schools.  It has shared its family engagement practices with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s (UWTSD) and other agencies in the community such as the Ethnic Youth Support Team.