A Sutton primary school is earning top marks for attendance thanks to a headteacher’s strategy for improvement.
When headteacher Louise Regan started at Hillocks Primary school in 2001, attendance was around 92 per cent, well below the national average of 95 per cent. Attendance was a key issue she had to contend with as a number of children regularly missed school.
Mrs Regan Said: “Before, we had a lot of children that were regularly missing school and a minority of parents that did not recognise that ensuring children were in school was a priority.
“The school is in an area of social disadvantage and there is a lot of social housing and high unemployment and this has had an effect on the school attendance at the school.”
“We started monitoring attendance on a weekly basis to develop strategies – not just at the end of each half term as had been the case before.”
One plan of attack was to introduce certificates, prizes and rewards for both children and parents for 100 per cent attendance.
Mrs Regan said: “We do quite a lot of individual rewards for good attendance and children are much more engaged now there is the element of competition”.
“F2 and Key Stage 1 children get a certificate and a pencil and the names of Key Stage 2 children are put in a prize draw to win £10 which they love. We also do a draw for parents to win a £10 Asda voucher which is popular. The class with the best attendance over the half term can choose a local off-site visit such as bowling, ice skating, cinema or a play area. The teachers really get into it and are as competitive as the children.”
The school found that the reward strategy did not work for children that missed a day and realised that they would not win a prize.
Mrs Kegan said: “We decided we needed more contact with parents because at primary school age, it is the parents that bring the children to school.
“We tried phoning and we often couldn’t get through or they didn’t answer and we had to chase them which took up a lot of time. We also wrote letters and arranged meetings and then we heard about a school attendance text-based messaging system called Truancy Call from Contact Group and rang to find out more.”
To use the service, staff select the children that are absent at the start of the day from the school’s SIMs Management Information System which automatically sends out a standard message to which parents must respond.
Said the headteacher: “Response rates have been much better than those achieved by phoning as a lot of parents are very active on their mobiles, we know they have received it and they have the option of sending a message back. The idea that you can send a text to all parents in seconds alerting them that their child is absent is great. We very rarely have children that don’t come in to school but if a child doesn’t arrive then it is important that we are able to let the parents know early.”
Since Mrs Regan’s new attendance strategy was implemented school attendance has risen to 94 per cent in 2013 and has been as high as 94.9 per cent in 2012.
She added: “Ofsted inspected the school before the summer and recognised that attendance is improving and that as a school we are doing as much as we can.”
Hillocks works with individual families on attendance and punctuality and has a late gate and a register to monitor children’s late arrivals.
Louise explained: “When we first introduced our attendance strategy we focused on getting the children to attend school and then worked on punctuality when that had improved.
For example, in the past we have contacted parents that think it is too late for their child to come into school because school has already started. We prefer them to come in late rather than not at all.”
Truancy Call and Hillocks’ other strategies have improved attendance and raised awareness that it is a priority.
Mrs Regan said: “Everyone is clear how important it is. We have seen an improvement in attendance which initially was poor and are moving much closer to the national average of 95 per cent which we are very proud of.”
She added: “The schools’ strategies have raised awareness about the importance of attendance with the children, parents and teachers.
“The community is much more aware that attendance is a key priority and that it is important from a learning perspective that children are in school everyday.
“Attendance has improved and everyone understands that as a result of this children’s performance will also improve . “Schools should look at a range of strategies as every child and parent is different and what works for one may not work for the other.
“Raising awareness about the importance of attendance through communication with parents and competitions is vital. It is also important to maintain the constant work and continue to implement the policies and technology to improve attendance rates.”