A holistic approach to improving attendance

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A holistic approach to improving attendance

Ysgol Gymunedol Cefn Hengoed Community School, Swansea, has used a wide range of strategies that have significantly improved pupils’ attendance. A multi-agency approach that includes text messaging parents, targeting particular groups of pupils and setting up a breakfast club, has ensured improving attendance is a high priority and successful focus of the school’s work.

Number of pupils: 664
Age range: 11–16 years
Date of Estyn inspection: December 2011

Context and background to sector-leading practice

Cefn Hengoed is an 11-16 mixed community comprehensive school on the east side of Swansea. There are 664 pupils on roll. Around three-quarters of the pupils come from the 30% most deprived areas in Swansea. In 2010-2011, thirty-six per cent of pupils were entitled to free school meals.

In the previous inspection in 2005, attendance was identified as an area for improvement. Other aspects of provision, including teaching and the curriculum, were also judged as having an impact on attendance.

The school used RAISE (Raising Attainment and Individual Standards in Education) funds to help set up a team of ‘Pastoral Support Officers’ who were attached to the learning co-ordinators for lower, middle and upper school. Their role was to provide holistic support to pupils, resolve behaviour issues and monitor pupil attendance. In addition, the school established a senior pastoral team to monitor the effectiveness of attendance support strategies for pupils and families. These strategies involved multi-agency groups and working with cluster primary schools. An attendance working group has specific responsibility to reflect on, monitor and review progress in improving attendance.

The school revised the key stage 4 curriculum to meet the needs of all pupils and the requirements of Learning and Skills Measure. A focus group of staff worked on developing strategies to improve the quality of teaching and learning. Increasing levels of collaborative working at key stage 4 and with partner primary schools has helped to improve further the curriculum, and quality of teaching and learning. These arrangements have had a particularly positive impact on boys’ attendance.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

Pastoral Support Officers manage the school’s text messaging service for first and subsequent days’ absence. Targeted pupils receive first and subsequent days’ phone call monitoring. Those pupils who have particularly poor attendance records or for whom staff have specific concerns receive home visits. The level of response to text messaging is high and parents have indicated a preference for this type of communication.

The senior pastoral team monitors attendance to enable prompt intervention, including multi-agency involvement. The attendance working group, which is chaired by the headteacher and includes the educational welfare officer, meets monthly to monitor the progress of year groups, forms and individual targeted pupils. As a result of these reviews, this group determines further action such as targeting particular groups of pupils.

Attendance is a priority on the school development plan and is the first item on the agenda for all meetings, including the headteacher’s report to governors. The school has also allocated specific funds to:

  • expand the team of Pastoral Support Officers from two to three;
  • extend the text messaging service;
  • re-focus the work of the senior pastoral team on the attendance of key stage 4 pupils and particularly those in Year 11;
  • reduce teaching commitments for senior pastoral team members;
  • invest in key stage 4 learning coaches to improve attendance and increase the participation of pupils identified at risk of becoming not in education, employment or training (NEETs); and
  • hold staff training events to improve consistency in drawing links between pupils’ attendance and their progress when giving feedback to pupils, and when meeting with or reporting to parents.

Other strategies to improve attendance include a daily breakfast club, which builds on the work of partner primary schools and eases transition into the school. Individually targeted family support meetings also focus on attendance.

The school also makes attendance a high priority in its rewards scheme, for example, through termly letters to parents for excellent attenders, special awards for pupils with 100% attendance for the whole year and in the annual awards evening.

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

There has been an improvement in attendance in every year group. Attendance levels of 83.4% in 2004-2005 have risen to 90.9% placing the school in the top quarter for the last three years when compared with similar schools and well above modelled expectations.

As a result of pupils’ improved attendance and engagement, progression to post-16 education has increased.

There has also been a reduction in the percentage of pupils at risk of becoming NEETs and in the percentage of pupils leaving full-time education without a qualification.