Resource Hub Case Studies

Attendance Management: Greenshaw Learning Trust

Attendance Management: Greenshaw Learning Trust

/ Mark London

Monitoring student attendance at Greenshaw Learning Trust

Greenshaw Learning Trust is a large MAT with 30 primary and secondary schools across the South of England. Like many other MATs and schools, the trust has been tackling issues with attendance that its leaders have traced back in part to changing attitudes towards school. Janice Bowling (Head of Systems and Integration) and Julie Carrick (Head of Attendance and Educational Welfare) met with us to discuss the shifting culture of attendance and how they are using Bromcom MIS to improve it.

New attitudes to attendance

The current school absence epidemic is usually pinned on rising anxiety cases among students, overcautious parents hesitant to send ill children to school, and strained local services unable to support so-called ghost children. But a new factor has recently come to the fore: a perception among some parents that children no longer need to go into school every day.

“Following Covid, the strong partnership between home and school has deteriorated significantly.” says Janice.

“Parents have now seen that you can do school virtually and that has damaged their belief that children should attend school on a regular basis. This not only puts a huge pressure on attendance but also on other areas of school life.”

A culture around absence predates the pandemic, such as children being off school on their birthday or taken out early to minimise holiday costs.

However, the persistence of remote and hybrid working following Covid has created a new mindset among a number of parents, as Julie explains: “It’s almost assumed now that if a child misses a week, it really doesn’t matter because we can function perfectly well going into the office four days a week.”

With some parents becoming accustomed to regularly keeping children off school, they are much savvier about avoiding the repercussions of it, too.

“They’ll quite happily add four days on to a bank holiday and know that they’re not going to get fined.” says Janice. “Everybody knows the rules and parents know how to play the system far more than they have done previously.”

Some are upfront about this new attitude, as well. Julie continues: “The attitude to holidays in term time has changed completely. Parents are actually really honest now and many will openly admit they are willing to take the fight or put up with fines.”

Tackling the cultural shift

Although both Julie and Janice agree improving school attendance will require action at a government, or local authority-level, neither are convinced fines are the optimal solution.

“It feels like we’re kettling the parent.” says Julie. “Punishing them for poor attendance will only fracture the relationship between the home and school more, and I actually think this is going to cause us to take a step backwards.”

“Instead,” she continues, “the government and schools should be focusing on regaining trust with parents and strengthening that home-school relationship that in the past has been so successful for schools. We need to convince parents that regular attendance is important.”

Greenshaw’s response

Greenshaw Learning Trust is using Bromcom’s Management Information System (MIS) to more closely monitor attendance at its schools and help them find ways to improve it.

One of the most useful features, according to Julie, is the tailored dashboards that surface the information and insights each user wants to see: “I love that in Bromcom one of the things you can set up on your homepage is to immediately see which pupils’ birthday is that day. Students are more likely to be off ‘sick’ on their birthday.”

Janice agrees that having an attendance dashboard on the homepage is a “revelation”, but for her the main benefit is how it streamlines operations: “I’ve sat in a primary school on Go Live day and the staff say ‘right, I need to run my attendance statistics for my headteacher’, not realising that they don’t need to do that anymore. The MIS automatically creates these reports for you and sends them to the right people.”

Bromcom is also helping the Trust’s schools probe the specific causes of poor attendance by allowing them to create absence and attendance subcodes to use alongside the national codes. Julie, for example, has created two illness subcodes: ‘anxiety with a formal diagnosis received’ and ‘anxiety with no formal diagnosis received’.

“These subcodes are helping our schools assess how many absences are down to genuine mental health needs as well as flag to staff at what point they should ask for evidence of a mental health diagnosis.”

With a greater understanding of what causes absences, schools can pinpoint the best solutions to deal with each one at its root. When they begin to reduce absences, this should move the dial on the new attitudes towards attendance.

“The  other thing that ties in nicely with the subcodes is that it will better inform safeguarding.” adds Janice. “Attendance and safeguarding work so closely together, and these subcodes can identify who is suffering even if they are not yet on the school safeguarding register or radar.”

Going forward

The trust is looking to utilise more attendance subcodes in the future to get a far more detailed picture of attendance in its schools.

Its leaders are also keen to use them in other areas related to attendance, such as assigning the causes of lateness to pupils, like ‘late due to public transport’ or ‘late due to a medical appointment’. The former, for example, can be used to see if particular routes to school are causing lateness, and will enable a school to introduce measures to help students living in that area to get in on time.