Managing student attendance at Astrea Academy Trust

Astrea Academy Trust is a mature MAT with schools across South Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire, and  a universal belief in high standards and expectations for every child. The Trust has witnessed a number of trends in the past couple of years that are impacting student attendance. Lorraine Yates (Trust Assistant Principal) and Jacob Gorham (MIS and Data Manager) met with us to explore the challenges being faced and some of the ways they are using data to help provide solutions.

Issues and trends

Attendance is a whole school challenge, but as Lorraine explains, some year groups have been impacted more than others by the legacy of Covid.

“Our Year nines and tens are probably seeing the biggest challenges,” says Lorraine, “as they are the cohort of young people that was most disrupted by Covid and that were impacted by Sure Start Centres and Childrens Centres being closed. So, throughout their childhood up to the end of their statutory school age, they’ve missed out on quite a bit. From what we’re seeing in our academies, it has had an impact.”

Covid has also had a wider impact on attitudes towards attendance, witnessed by schools across the Trust, as Lorraine explains:“I think there has definitely been a shift in terms of some parents’ views on attendance, and in particular around the importance of attending school. We’ve been seeing an increase in minor illness – such as colds – being a reason for absence. Academy attendance teams are working as hard as ever and doing more early intervention such as speaking to GPs and working with families to ensure that are aware of guidance issued by Public Health England and the NHS supports attendance as we know that for 18months families were told to stay away from school with symptoms children would usually have come to school with.”

With local health services stretched, a lack of support outside of school has also exacerbated attendance issues across the Trust. Long waiting lists for mental health services, for example, mean that a lot is pushed back onto the school to manage – much more so than in the past.

Another trend that is impacting attendance is the increase in student absence on Mondays and Fridays, with Fridays in particular being the most significant for absence. This is also linked to a wider shift in attitudes towards school. Lorraine continues:

“Attendance has been known to drop to around 76% in some schools on Fridays – we are seeing an increase in extended holidays, where some families will choose to have a long weekend away for example, and will take the extra day off. We find parents might say ‘well our children are tired and need a break from school.’

“During the pandemic, families got used to having children at home. Being able to have that quality time together was positive in many ways, there was the freedom of being able to manage the day around family life. And I think a lot of our parents would like to move back towards that, and do what feels right for them as a family rather than sticking within the guidelines of what we want as a school. It’s an emotive topic, because what works for one family is not always what works for another.”

Astrea’s Response

Astrea is using Bromcom’s Management Information System (MIS) and data to respond to these issues. The MIS provides automated scheduled reporting, which has been particularly useful for understanding attendance data.

Jacob Gorham has been working on Power BI dashboards for school-level investigative purposes at Woodfields Academy. This has proven to be a powerful tool for effective change, as it provides the school with the data it needs in a format that best benefits staff.

“Scheduled reporting means people have the data when they need it,” says Jacob. “Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a suite of pastoral dashboards which include behaviour, attendance, and suspensions for school level investigative purposes. Power BI lets us pull the data every 30 minutes, so we effectively have a live data feed that gives staff the information they want without me having to run a report. That’s become a really powerful tool to bring about effective change, and because it’s data that is customised by the school, it is helping them meet their KPIs.”

The dashboards allow schools to act upon the data and to drive ways of improving, including targeted interventions on a student level. The system has also saved time for attendance teams, who no longer need to run daily absence reports. Instead, the live feed provides an up-to-date list of absent students – a huge advantage when resources are often stretched.

There have been other positive developments as well, and new cohorts joining secondary school are benefiting from the processes now in place, as Lorraine explains:

“Year sevens across the Trust seem to be the strongest year group in terms of attendance and I think that’s because we’ve been able to embed positive new behaviour routines and attitudes. It’s been a whole school approach and with our Year sevens they are the first cohort to benefit from these new policies and attendance frameworks –  they’ve had a transition package.”

Future plans

For Astrea, now that powerful data dashboards have been set up and are in place, it’s now a case of embedding the processes and streamlining how the system is used on a day-to-day basis.

There are plans to roll out these dashboards to other schools in the Trust once the strengths and weaknesses have been fully evaluated. Bromcom’s flexibility means reports can be tweaked and adapted to meet the needs of different schools; the Trust looks forward to providing more support to their academies to manage attendance in the next academic year.