The consequences of pupils arriving late or missing school altogether can be long-term and life-changing, as we saw in our article entitled The importance of being there. There is clearly a great deal to be said for MATS to get their attendance and other data in as early as possible, but it would be even better if pupils at risk could be identified before absenteeism and other poor habits become entrenched.
What does ‘at risk’ mean?
A good place to start is with the question: what exactly do we mean by 'at risk'? The Education Reform website defines it as follows:
"The term at-risk is often used to describe students or groups of students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. The term may be applied to students who face circumstances that could jeopardize their ability to complete school, such as homelessness, incarceration, teenage pregnancy, serious health issues, domestic violence, transiency (as in the case of migrant-worker families), or other conditions, or it may refer to learning disabilities, low test scores, disciplinary problems, grade retentions, or other learning-related factors that could adversely affect the educational performance and attainment of some students.”
What to look for
So how do you spot such children? The NFER produced a very useful report that MATs may find it useful to summarise and distribute to their schools. In fact, the report, entitled Indicators to identify the disengaged, has done the work for you in a summary appendix. This lists 45 signs that all is not well, and some of them are particularly useful because they can be spotted in the classroom, i.e. before the pupil goes AWOL.
For example, if a pupil is not participating in lessons, that should raise a red flag. Of course, one swallow doesn't make a summer, so it would be useful to look out for other tell-tale signs. For instance, if the pupil has low confidence and self-esteem, or even has recently moved from another school.
One of the things a MAT might do is gather in the data on such behaviour and characteristics through Groupcall Emerge and Xporter. That should help to give forewarning of pupils' disengagement before it manifests itself in poor attendance or punctuality. Moreover, if some schools appear to be supporting at-risk pupils better than others, a MAT is in a position to be proactive by sharing good practice between its schools.
What to do
What can be done to help such pupils? There is some advice on the American website Red Flags National. While useful in a general sense ("Have the right attitude", "Reduce classroom stress") it is somewhat vague in many respects. A far better resource is the National Children's Bureau's report entitled Children missing education.
This found that:
"Schools had many different support mechanisms for pupils at different stages of the missing education pathway, including: preventing children missing education, supporting them in the interim and successfully reintegrating them back into learning. The ability of schools to support children missing education was dependent on the quality of teaching, availability of (suitable) alternative provision, processes for tracking and addressing any changes in attendance, and planning for individual children and their needs."
The report also pointed out that:
"Schools are also expected to monitor pupils’ attendance through daily registers. They should make regular reports to the local authority of the details of pupils who are consistently absent from school or have missed ten school days or more without permission." (page 21)
It's quite clear from that paragraph that much will depend on how well changes in pupils' behaviour and attendance are tracked, and how the school responds to the resulting data. Groupcall's Emerge and Xporter are ideal for such tasks, and can make any unusual changes in behaviour, grades or attendance much more visible.
For dealing with older students, there is useful advice in the article Engaging with students at risk of becoming NEET. Again, the ‘Top tips’ section of the article begins with the need to identify students at risk, and monitoring progress by keeping track of the salient indicators such as attendance and grades.
As always, prevention is better than cure — and probably much easier too.
Spotting truants before it is too late — useful for practical suggestions.