Let’s start by examining the term ‘too late’. What does it mean: how long out of school is too long?
The surprising — and perhaps shocking — answer is that even one day out of school can affect a pupil’s academic achievement. In March last year, the Department for Education issued a press release summarising its latest research:
"Just one day off can hamper children's life chances."
This was based on research showing the effects of absenteeism on GCSE grades.
According to research in America on the links between pre-school absenteeism and learning, absenteeism can have a profound effect on a child's performance, especially in maths and literacy.
According to researchers Arya Ansari and Kelly M Purtell, missing 10% or more of the school year (an average of 22 days) leads to fewer gains in maths and literacy over the school year. This amounts to the equivalent loss of two months gains in maths, and three months in literacy.
They also found that the development of children's literacy skills was highly influenced by the quality of interactions between teachers and children. Indeed, the benefits were approximately twice as large for children who were absent less often.
These are ‘just’ the effects of truancy on academic attainment. Other studies have also found strong correlations between truancy and crime, such as drug abuse and selling drugs.
Truancy has other ramifications too. A pupil who is supposed to be in school but isn’t, is clearly at risk. Not only are they not under adult supervision, but their whereabouts are unknown.
Pupil absenteeism also affects schools, because part of Ofsted’s judgement centres on attendance. As for parents, they will have the worry of not knowing where their child is if the school contacts them to say he or she is not in school.
It is therefore imperative that schools are not only assiduous in collecting data on attendance, but also proactive in using the data. Groupcall Emerge is very good for that purpose. For example, you can use it to look at a pupil’s absences within a specific period, and you can see each pupil’s attendance record at a glance.
So if, for instance, a pupil is giving cause for concern for any reason, you could look at their attendance record over, say, the past month. If it is less than a percentage you specify, such as 95%, you can take steps to find out what’s going on. In this way, you stand a reasonable chance of stopping truanting before it becomes a habit.
There is also relative absence to consider. What this means is that if the average pupil attendance is, say, 99%, and one pupil’s is 97%, they are outside of the norm and it’s important to find out what. Are they being bullied? Are they finding the work too challenging? Do they have caring duties at home?
Thus spotting truants before it is too late also means making the opportunity to support pupils to prevent them falling by the wayside, rather than punish them once they have done so.