What can a school do to identify students at risk of becoming persistent truants – in effect, of 'dropping out'? We've already seen in the article Spotting truants before it is too late that even short or occasional absenteeism can have a detrimental effect on a pupil's life chances, so picking up on absenteeism before it becomes a habit – or, better still, preventing it from happening in the first place – is imperative.
The good news is that there has been plenty of research into this area, and also that with Groupcall Emerge, Messenger and Xporter a school, local authority or multi-academy trust has the tools to deal with it.
Causes of truancy
Before looking at the tell-tale signs of serial truancy, it's worth considering the causes. Prevention is obviously better than cure, and much easier, so knowing the factors leading to truancy can be very useful.
Much has been made of individual factors which, frankly, the school may not know about and be relatively powerless to deal with. According to research published in the USA, these include home circumstances such as being poor, a member of a minority, having only one parent, coming from a family with low educational attainment or a family that does not see the benefits of education.
While a school cannot alter such circumstances, a Family Lives report published research that:
"... highlighted the importance of co-ordination with other key services. [And] that addressing school non-attendance effectively is contingent upon successful inter-agency working between Education Welfare Officers (EWOs), the school, and the family."
Interestingly, the report goes on to say that:
"In instances where the work of education welfare services are not closely integrated into that of local schools, they become isolated from the range of other agencies and services involved in supporting children and their families and this has negative impacts for communication and cooperation between parties involved in truancy cases, leading to poor outcomes and ineffective enforcement."
The report sums this up as follows:
"Communication between parents, schools and local authorities is arguably one of single most important factors in whether a school has a good record on truancy or not."
However, research has also found that school factors may play a large role. For example, poor classroom discipline, low achievement, and boredom. These factors should also not necessarily be considered in isolation. For example, the USA research cited above found that:
"A high level of teacher bullying particularly increases truancy of pupils with bad grades.”
It is tempting to draw up a list of bullet points, as the government of Queensland has done. These include lateness, missing lessons during the school day, and being bullied. Such lists are useful to an extent, and provide a quick reference to teachers and senior leaders alike.
However, they do not tell the whole story, and some researchers have pointed out the value of longitudinal data. That is to say, a term of low achievement may be a one-off 'glitch'. What is the longer-term trend for that particular pupil?
Dealing with the issue
It's clear that communication and data are the two key weapons in the fight against serial truancy. To state the obvious, once a pupil has dropped out, it's too late. Research has found that respectful communication with parents, that is where they don't feel patronised by the school, is very important. So is working with parents, especially where it looks as if a problem may be arising. This is where Messenger comes in, because it is very easy to send a text message to parents about their child's attendance, punctuality, achievement or behaviour in a very timely manner.
According to the USA research:
"The research findings imply that early warning systems need to be able to capture, at a minimum, students’ course grades and attendance records".
Groupcall Emerge is set up to do exactly this, and Xporter is able to collate the data from several schools in order to arrive at an overall picture.
The Family Lives report also states that:
"principles and practice which facilitate a consistent approach to behaviour management, teaching and learning include: effective school leadership and classroom management; the appropriate use of rewards and sanctions; the teaching of good behaviour; effective staff development and support; sound pupil support systems and pastoral care; open liaison with parents and other external agencies; managing pupil transition; and a school's organisation and internal facilities."
In conclusion, good communications, timely data and proactive and supportive leadership are all essential in the quest to prevent pupils from becoming serial truants.