Nina Siddle explains how she developed effective systems for improving attendance in her role as school business manager at Withernea Junior School

In preparation for discussing our levels of absence and exclusion. In this article, I will explain what this revealed about the school and outline the measures we undertook to address the key issues.

Extensive data gathering and analysis
As I discussed in my article last month, demonstrating how your analysis of attendance impacts upon the school and how you are hoping to address any areas for development is vitally important. There is a strong need for continual review of your reward and analysis systems to ensure that complacency does not occur and reward schemes are constantly kept appealing to the children. Information was gathered under a variety of headings, including sessions lost to sickness, holidays, late after registration had closed and other authorised circumstances. Having been a school which had regularly maintained its attendance to above the national average, it was concerning to see that it was falling, albeit gradually.

Analysis of previous attendance suggested that the following actions needed to be taken:

  • We should review our current rewards system and aim it at both the pupils and families. This could be promoted as an incentive to families, as poor attendance and lateness is very often an issue with the parents not the children.
  • We should make reward periods more frequent with ‘credits’ being recorded for 100% attendance each half term month. Targets can still be issued per term, with credits and certificates available for targets met and vouchers presented for 100% attendance each term. Vouchers will need sourcing from local stores. We could sell this as a profile raiser for the stores with publicity through the local papers and newsletters. Credits awarded could be accumulated, recorded electronically in the office and ‘cashed in’ when pupils wanted. Examples of rewards exchangeable for credits might be a week’s pass for school healthy tuck shop, stationery, art materials.
  • We determine whether any holidays exceeded 10 days (20 sessions).
  • We identify those pupils who had unauthorised absence.
  • We ask for medical evidence for all illness absences exceeding a predetermined number of sessions. Home visits should be made to advise parents of this when appropriate. This may well deter some absence and has in the past made an impact – when an EWO was on site permanently, this course of action was seen as effective.

A renewed focus on attendance
In the first instance we decided to revise our pupil attendance reward scheme with a view to providing more of an incentive to the children and their parents. This scheme is still very much in its infancy, but support for it has been very enthusiastic. Launched in January 2008, it is based on a credit system, whereby the children can redeem their credits for prizes or save them up for prizes of greater value. Credits of different values will be awarded for 100% attendance over a half term, hitting a termly attendance target and 100% attendance for a full term. We are hoping to be able to award extra family rewards for 100% at the end of term as we have identified that it is often the families who affect their children’s attendance.

At the end of the year special awards will be made for those children who have attended for 100% of the year.

Fundraising

While this scheme shows promise, it is clear that to fund it will prove costly. To that end I have been avidly outsourcing sponsors to help support the scheme. Contact was made with every appropriate retailer within a 20-mile radius, with the hope that they may consider using us as a profile raiser within our community.

When approaching outside funding in this way, you shouldn’t get discouraged if you receive little response. I received two successful responses, which have actually proved to be fairly substantial. Tesco gave us an adult mountain bike, which we have used as a prize on a non-uniform day. All children that day who had 100% attendance for the previous week were entered into a prize draw and a voluntary donation was asked for in turn for attending school in non-uniform – this alone raised £160. Tesco have also agreed to donate community vouchers which the school can spend in the store to purchase appropriate prizes for our credit reward scheme, helping to get us off to a flying start.

Hull City Football Club has offered free tickets to their matches on a termly basis, which will make great family reward prizes. Other local businesses have donated prizes, such as family bowling sessions. These are great for community cohesion and help raise the profile of local activities. Other funding applications have been made to our local authority extended schools fund, BP, local trusts and the Sutton Trust.

I obtain most of my trust contacts through Grants4schools, which is a website specifically focused on funding in schools. They produce a very useful newsletter through which I made contact with the Sutton Trust. The Grants4schools monthly newsletter annotates each provider with the causes they will support, so it is much easier to see which funders would be most appropriate to apply to.

Marketing

When sourcing the funding, I had assured sponsors that they would gain publicity through newsletters and press coverage when the scheme was launched, together with exposure on a display in our school entrance and on our website. We have already had interest in the display from a local rugby club and we are hoping to gain tickets and some coaching events from this. This has been a good example of how marketing in schools can have a positive impact on raising your profile and creating new community links. Upon the scheme’s launch we had a special attendance week, which culminated in the above mentioned non-uniform day and prize draw for the Tesco mountain bike. A newsletter was also mailed to parents outlining the changes to the reward scheme and each child has been issued with a reward card to have credits recorded on.


Other work

Our education welfare officer is very enthusiastic about the scheme and is also supporting us by making more proactive visits and contacting those families who are showing persistent absence from school. We have introduced a text messaging service, details of which can be found at www.keepkidssafe.co.uk. The service enables us to contact parents quickly and more frequently as regards their child’s absence from school. The system is linked to our pupil database and also provides the facility to send group mailings as well as text messages. This is really useful, particularly in larger schools, for managing issues such as meal arrears, music arrears and organising after-school clubs. Any letters or messages can be generated so there is no end to how flexible the system can be. The cost is currently £100 per month for primary schools and £200 for secondaries, although Keepkidssafe are open to negotiation.

Like the reward scheme I am attempting to fund this through outside sponsorship. There may be some mileage in one or two years’ time for the nearby infant school and children’s centre to subscribe, when we may be able to attract economies of scale, but until then I am planning on funding the scheme through sponsorship in the first instance and sustaining it through the budget if it continues to be as effective as it is now. You will find that a no-obligation, three-month trial is available for those of you who might consider giving it a try.

The impact of our current changes have yet to be seen, but from feedback received from the children, they are very keen to see rewards for their first half term.

Nina Siddle is business manager at Withernsea Junior School in East Yorkshire

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