Published on: 20 Feb 2014

The UK has an ongoing battle with school attendance as we discover that the UK has some of the worst truancy rates in the world.

Is measuring attitude the key to tackling truancy?

The UK’s ongoing battle with school attendance was once again highlighted in research published by the OECD recently, revealing that we suffer from some of the worst truancy rates in the world.

Almost a fifth of teenagers in UK secondary schools admitted to skipping at least a day of lessons over a two week period, compared to less than one in a hundred in parts of China.

When the consequences of missing school are so dire – children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs than those who don’t – reducing truancy remains a top priority.

Clamping down on parents who condone absences or take term time holidays is one way, but perhaps it’s time to really focus on why these young people keep skipping classes.

Plot Spoiler

Research has shown that it’s actually possible to predict up to a year in advance which children are at the highest risk of playing truant.

When the attitudinal survey Pupils Attitudes to Self and School was piloted across 1444 pupils aged 11 to 16, it was found that nine out of 10 pupils with low scores in ‘attitude to attendance’ had begun to truant a year later.

In other words, attitude change precedes a change in behaviour, so schools could start tackling the causes of disaffection at least twelve months before the symptoms become apparent.

This throws up an interesting question; when should schools start to check children’s attitudes aren’t going off the boil?

Certainly, there is much less opportunity for children to skip lessons in primary school, when the vast majority are chaperoned to and from the school gate. At secondary school there is significantly more freedom, as well as the potential for pressure from older children, so it follows that the primary to secondary transition point is a well known danger zone for truancy.

Prevention is better than cure

We’re now seeing a number of schools surveying Year 5 and 6 pupils for signs of attitudes on the wane. It’s a strategy that has been employed very successfully with one of the councils we work with, who were classified as a Persistent Absence (PA) local authority in 2007. This meant incidences of school absence exceeded 20%.

Teachers at one of the secondary schools flagged that transition into Year 7 was proving to be an issue. So, the council started to work directly with a feeder primary, surveying the children’s motivations using PASS.

As the secondary school uses the same attitudinal survey – and has been doing so for some time – the council were able to cross-reference the revealing results.

Amongst other attitudinal information, it was found that girls scored poorly in attitude to attendance from an early age and didn’t recover, which was reflected in poor attendance rates higher up the school.

Once this issue was identified, the council was able to introduce highly targeted, 'girl friendly' activities in the feeder primaries to the secondary school.

In an era of belt tightening, such well-aimed interventions ensure most effective use of school funds. 

Fully present

Measuring attitudes mean schools are able to understand the real and specific barriers to learning for their pupils and then directly address them.
After all, just rounding up those who regularly play truant because they feel disconnected from school misses the point somewhat. Children with a poor attitude to attendance may be at school in body, but not in mind.

Andrew Thraves is the Director of Education at GL Assessment

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