Consistent attendance at school makes a difference to learning and wellbeing outcomes.
There is a clear correlation between attendance at school and academic achievement as indicated by this graph of our students which shows that lower attendance leads to poorer learning outcomes and lower marks.
The ‘Everyday Counts’ report by the Victorian Government is unequivocal about the need to attend school everyday: There is no safe number of days for missing school – each day a student misses puts them behind and can affect their educational outcomes. Each missed day is associated with progressively lower achievement in numeracy, writing and reading.
There is also broad research that shows that low attendance negatively affects student wellbeing. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) identifies the effects of absenteeism: Absenteeism can increase social isolation, including alienation and lack of engagement with the school community and peers, leading to emotional and behavioural difficulties (Carroll, 2013; Gottfried, 2014). It is also associated with an increased likelihood of drop-out (Keppens & Spruyt, 2017; London, Sanchez, Castrechini, & Castrechini, 2016).
However, in Australia and many other western countries, attendance rates are falling.
Data released by ACARA shows that around Australia, attendance rates at school have decreased in the time since Covid lockdowns ended. Given how desperately most people wanted students to return to school, it seems odd. What is going on?
National Years 7 to 10 school attendance rate
Includes government and non-government schools. No data available for 2020
Reasons for declining attendance
There are several reasons why this might be happening. Among them:
- Some students became disengaged from school in the time they were forcibly absent from face-to-face education.
- Some students developed anxieties about being in the school community.
- Schools may have become more lenient in their approach to absenteeism. They are not following up in the way they did before Covid. The pressure schools were placed under and the overwhelming absenteeism from staff and students, have caused routines and procedures to become more relaxed.
- Family routines and expectations may have also become less strict. In some cases, there is an attitude that ‘In the big scheme of things, what does it really matter?’
Mental health days
When your child is struggling with academic or social issues at school, it can be so tempting to keep them home where things are easier, and you can wrap them up in love. It’s understandable, but not necessarily the best approach.
When things aren’t going well, that is the time students really need to be at school. This is where they can be offered support and connection. This is where they can access their wellbeing and academic teachers and staff and the support of their peers.
Part-time attendance concerns
Not all absenteeism is for a whole day. There is a growing number of students choosing parts of the day to miss. For example, they will choose to arrive late and miss the morning Homeroom period or a class they don’t value highly.
Part-time absenteeism teaches students they can simply opt out of the parts of life they don’t enjoy, or they find hard.
Why is attendance so important?
The reasons for regular school attendance may seem obvious:
- Learning is a building process, and it is important not to miss any of the steps
- Consistency builds success in learning
- More school equals more opportunities for social-emotional learning and more opportunities for building self-worth
- Students become more comfortable and increase their risk-taking in learning when they are regularly at school
- The inner critic quietens when our young people are busy and engaged. Humans need purpose.