Improving School Attendance: Teacher, student and parent/carer perspectives from 10 school communities in Queensland

Year: 2018

Author: Mills, Martin, Lynch, Deborah, Howell, Angelique

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

School attendance has been concerning educators in the Global North (including Australia) for many decades (Skattebol & Hayes, 2016).  Research suggests a strong relationship between young people’s attendance at school, their academic achievement and subsequent life chances (Birioukov, 2016).  This research, commissioned by the Queensland Department of Education, aimed to understand the strategies used by Queensland state schools to improve attendance.  The research was comprised of three stages. The first stage used the department’s data to identify 50 schools with improved student attendance. The second stage involved telephone interviews with the principals from these schools. The third stage involved 10 case studies of schools purposefully selected from the second stage based on their unique or representative approaches, while ensuring a spread of primary, secondary and P-12 schools across the seven Queensland regions. This paper will focus on the perspectives of the teachers, students and parents/carers who participated in the case studies.  Analysis of the data revealed four overarching themes, which were drawn from interviews and focus groups with the participants.  These themes encompassed a range of integrated approaches and strategies. The first of these themes was a focus on relationships at all levels within the school, and with parents/carers and the wider community.  This included meeting students’ needs for assistance with food, uniforms, books or transport in ways that minimised ‘shame’.  The second theme was a focus on teamwork, which involved inclusive leadership and whole-school ownership of the aim to improve attendance.  The third theme was the development of a supportive and positive school climate that was inclusive, embraced diversity, and was an enjoyable and a safe place to learn. Finally, teachers and students discussed curriculum and pedagogy in several sites as explicitly linked not only to improving school attendance, but to enhancing students’ engagement with their learning.  There were examples of innovative approaches within the case study sites, such as one teacher who reported that her students were writing algorithms for Rubik's cubes.  In another school, an experienced teacher was appointed to the role of ‘Attendance Officer’ to bring understanding of teaching and learning processes in order to address barriers to school attendance. While alternative or flexible learning pathways were commonly offered, students’ success in gaining an apprenticeship or traineeship was celebrated in another school community.  These schools emphasised that strategies to improve attendance not only take time to achieve, but require a continual process of refinement.