Teacher Staffroom Episode 56: Working with families and students on attendance

This podcast from Teacher is supported by Grok Academy, a Digital Technology education platform free for Australian and New Zealand teachers and students.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight, and action in education. I'm Dominique Russell.

If you listened to last month’s episode of Teacher Staffroom, you’ll remember we spoke about new research from national charity The Smith Family that found the attendance of a year 9 student experiencing disadvantage can be a key indicator of whether or not they complete year 12. The report said that closely monitoring student attendance is important, but what strategies can schools implement to ensure they’re supporting students to have high attendance? We’ve explored some recent international research on this topic, and also looked at how one school in Australia is focusing on attendance. So, in this episode of Teacher Staffroom I’ll be bringing you up to speed on this content and, of course, I’ll also bring you a couple of my other personal highlights.

And don’t forget, like all episodes of Teacher Staffroom, I’ll also be posing some questions throughout this podcast, so feel free to pause the audio as you go, gather some colleagues, and discuss together how these stories might be relevant to your school context. Let's jump in.

The first article I’d like to share with you is a personal highlight of mine – I spoke with Dr Anna Saavedra from the University of Southern California about new research into parent perspectives on student attendance. The research involved surveying a representative sample of almost 2,500 parents and carers of K-12 students across the US about school absenteeism. When parents were asked about how many days of school their child had missed so far in the academic year, approximately 15% reported their child had been absent for 6 days or more in the autumn of 2023, and about a third reported absences of more than 10 days. What the research team found, though, was that these percentages are substantially lower than the rates found in hard absenteeism data.

In the article we do share more details about how the researchers specifically designed a survey for this study that aimed to reduce potential reporting biases from parents – for instance, parents underreporting their child’s absences – which was really interesting to find out about, so be sure to check out the full article at our website if you’d like to read more.

Now though, I’d like to share with you some of the practical implications to come out of this research. Here’s a quote from Anna:

Longitudinal comparisons (e.g., your child is missing XX more days than they used to) or other normative comparisons (e.g., your child’s attendance is lower than XX percent of their peers) might be one effective strategy. These kinds of comparisons have been shown to drive attendance behaviour in a Philadelphia experiment, for example.

So, that point there brings me to a question for you to think about. As a school leader, what strategies and policies are currently in place for supporting school attendance at your school? Do these strategies involve longitudinal reporting to the relevant parents/carers?

Following on from this, if you listened to our latest podcast episode, you would have heard Teacher editor Jo Earp speaking with Glenn Kayes from Kellyville High School in New South Wales about how the school has increased its average attendance rate from 87.3% in 2019 to 90.35% now.

It was a really great conversation that covered everything from what the data on student attendance was telling them back in 2019, the impact of COVID, and their collaboration with other schools. Glenn also told us about a student survey they ran, which I found really interesting. It was only a 2-minute anonymous paper survey and they asked questions like: What was the reason for your last absence? Are lessons interesting? Is the school environment comfortable? And Glenn said the responses to these questions opened up meaningful dialogue with the students, particularly those sitting in the 80 to 90% attendance rate.

So, following on from our earlier conversation about parent perceptions on attendance, I’d like to focus with you today on one specific section from our chat with Glenn, where he shares how their school is approaching communication with parents on attendance. Here’s Glenn:

What we did is, again, sent home that data sheet that basically talks about ‘every day matters’, ‘every day counts’, and we're talking about (like I said before), the 90% that's 20 school days off, which is basically a day off a fortnight. You start to move towards the 80% mark – well, it's close to a day a week, we're talking a day a week. So, 40 school days, you know, we've got basically 40 school weeks in a year. You're having a day off a week. We give out the lesson by lesson – we explain then ‘well, that’s how many lessons, how many hours of learning?’ One day off a fortnight is equivalent to, if you have that pattern from kindergarten through to year 12, you're basically the equivalent of finishing in year 11 because you've missed, by that stage, a whole year of your schooling. And then you divide that down and then you go ‘well, hang on a sec, we go further and we look at – all right, if you're down at 80% and that's been your pattern, it's the equivalent of you finishing in year 10, even though you're sitting for the HSC, we're talking 2 years of schooling that's missed out’. And I think when some of those stats started going in front of parents, it was very interesting. It was even interesting having a chat with staff about that as well, because it's just something that, you know, when those kinds of numbers are discussed, you go ‘oh, hang on, this is a serious sort of thing’.

So, with that in mind, here are some questions for you to think about, on your own or with colleagues, on this topic. What is the data saying about student attendance in your own school? Are parents aware of this data? Do students know what their own attendance rate is?

After the break, I’ll catch you up on some other key stories of interest from Teacher, but first here’s a quick message from our sponsor.

You’re listening to a podcast from Teacher magazine, supported by Grok Academy. Grok Academy is a not-for-profit Digital Technologies platform with resources for coding and cyber security, for Foundation to Year 10 – and it's completely free for all Australian and New Zealand teachers and students.

Another research story we’ve covered recently also looked at parent participation in another interesting area – children’s breakfasts. In our article, we shared how researchers from the University of New South Wales and Macquarie University found that eating an unhealthy breakfast can have the same impact as students not eating anything at all.

The study involved 648 high school students in years 7 to year 9 from 5 independent schools in New South Wales and it specifically looked at the impact of breakfast on students’ motivation and achievement by focusing on adolescents in science lessons. In light of these findings, the researchers had this to say on their recommendations to include information about healthy breakfasts in the curriculum, and sharing information and strategies for providing a healthy breakfast with families.

Having a healthy breakfast is somewhat within a student’s immediate control and could potentially be addressed either at school or home through better health education and communication.

So, on this, here are some questions to guide your thinking in this area. How many of your students are regularly coming to school feeling hungry? Have you asked them this question? What information could you include in the curriculum for all students about the benefits of a healthy breakfast? Do you communicate this with parents and families?

Now, if you didn’t know already, at Teacher we publish brand new content throughout the working week, and we share our new content as soon as it’s live on our Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages before we collate it all in our free weekly email bulletin sent out each Tuesday so you can catch up on all of our content in the one spot. When we shared this story about healthy breakfasts on our Twitter page, plenty of people in our community got in touch. For instance, one reader had this to say:

Our school runs a daily breakfast program for all students who wish to access this. It is run mostly on free items from Food Bank and other organisations. The quality of what can be provided is dictated by what we can get our hands on. What [constitutes] a healthy breakfast? The one divides many based on their own beliefs. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ when we offer kids white bread with margarine and call this breakfast… This [article] is timely as we are evaluating our school’s program for Term two.

Another person made this point:

This is tough. A breakfast of sugary cereal or toast and jam is not an amazing choice for breakfast. Though when it’s that or no food, I’d go with the food. Any food will help.

So, it’s clearly a topic that is front of mind for a lot of educators. Feel free to join the conversation over on our social media pages. You can find us by searching ‘Teacher ACER’.

And finally, I couldn’t finish this month’s episode of Teacher staffroom without acknowledging the fact that this month we celebrated Teacher’s 10th birthday, which means it’s now been 10 years of the Teacher podcast channel, too. In an article on our website, Teacher editor Jo Earp reflected on the last 10 years and how at the time of launching our podcast, it was a bold new digital format, which is a bit strange to think back on now! To all our listeners, thanks for listening, following our channel, and taking the time to leave us ratings and reviews over the years. It really means a lot to our team.

That's all for this episode. Thanks for listening. You’re now all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. I’ll leave all the links to the full articles and podcast episodes I mentioned today in the transcript of this podcast episode, which you can find under the podcast tab at our website, www.teachermagazine.com.

You’ve been listening to a podcast from Teacher, supported by Grok Academy. You can create a free account and get access to a huge range of coding and cyber security resources at Grok Academy. You can visit GrokAcademy.org, or simply search for Grok Academy.