Richard Prime, the headteacher at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School, explains the 6 steps schools can take to help ensure fantastic attendance on Fridays and during final weeks of term.
After the Covid-19 pandemic, one of our challenges was attendance drop off. We saw a particular drop off both on Fridays, where there is clear evidence of a pattern of higher absence, and towards the end of term especially in the final week.
Here are 6 actionable steps that we have found to be successful, and that schools and trusts can take to help ensure attendance on Fridays and during final week is fantastic, not flagging.
Analyse your Friday and Christmas patterns
We look back to final weeks in previous terms, especially in the Christmas period. It helps to identify which pupils tend to be off in final weeks of term, so that we can target extra support and communications. Following the DfE’s daily attendance data monitoring project can help get on top of your exact numbers.
Communicate consistently the importance of a strong finish to the whole school
Make sure you utilise all communication channels to parents and pupils to emphasize that Fridays are a fifth of the learning week. Conversely, half a Friday missed a fortnight is a tenth of the school year. The same holds for the last week – it is 8% of the term’s learning. It’s not just important to consolidate learnings from the week or term, but also for social connection and creating a culture of belonging in school.
Schedule learning and enrichment strategically
Demonstrate that Fridays and final weeks matter by treating the time as valuable. Some attendance hub schools schedule their mock exams in the final week of term, for example. Even simply ensuring enrichment is high quality (not just videos) or working extra hard to include more loosely attached children in activities like Christmas plays so they feel valued and engaged. We also find that celebration assemblies in the final week or on the final day provide an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the half term and provide an opportunity for meaningful praise and rewards for pupils.
Extra consistency and rigour in follow-up
We have found that prompts and a warm welcome are very important. Practices such as meeting children at the gate and calls to parents need to be implemented as well on Fridays and in the final week of terms as they are on any other day or week.
You could even increase frequency of follow-up calls and messages during these periods for any unexplained absence. The group of pupils with weak attendance in the final week can be a good starting place for outreach engagement over the holidays and pre-term reminders in January. This is particularly critical where term isn’t starting again till a Tuesday.
We keep engagement with parents as consistent as possible – for example sending weekly reminders to parents about upcoming Friday activities or involving parents in the planning of end-of-term events. Their involvement can help the family feel engaged and valued, and hence improve the pupil’s attendance. Our ‘12 Days of Christmas Attendance’ incentive will include a prize of a Christmas hamper - a treat for the whole family. We also have started effectively reporting absence, which involves describing lessons missed and being clear on what subjects and enrichment and social opportunities the pupils lost out on.
Targeted reward systems
Attendance rewards need to be thought about carefully - for example whole year prizes may mean that children who face a long-term period of illness can never benefit. We like the idea of using 'Friday Stars', which recognises students with consistent Friday attendance, or providing a special end-of-term celebration for those with good attendance in the final week, giving the awards on the final day of term. Our ‘Halloween treats’ for those with 100% attendance in the week before the October half-term proved popular and saw attendance for the week rise above the national average.