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Sending ‘nudge’ letters to parents can increase attendance – report

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Sending parents ‘nudge’ letters about their child’s poor school attendance can help reduce absenteeism, according to a new report.

But overall, there is a lack of evidence on the best methods to ensure students attend school.

The review of the results of 72 studies, conducted by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), on how to improve student attendance explored eight different methods.

She looked at mentoring, communicating with parents, providing meals, extracurricular activities, punishment or rewards, behavioral interventions, targeted approaches and teaching social and emotional skills, along with other interventions. who did not fall into these categories.

An intervention that sent parents ‘nudge’ letters to improve attendance, focusing on the number of school days their children had missed in the previous year, was found to have had a positive impact on increasing student attendance.

The letter emphasized the importance of student attendance to their learning and the wider school community. It has also been translated into the languages ​​most commonly spoken by families in the region.

Another positive impact has involved the intervention and support of social workers for pupils with persistent absenteeism, such as the provision of an older “walking buddy” to accompany them to school if the lack of transportation was a problem.

The paper notes that all but three of the studies took place in the United States and that they were all done before the pandemic.

It concluded that there was a lack of clear evidence on what works to reduce absenteeism, with EEF and the Youth Endowment Fund using their new funding round to develop evidence on effective methods to increase attendance.

The paper notes that attendance is a growing problem – in 2019/20 low attendance was 4.9% overall, with specialist schools having a higher rate of 10.5% and persistent absence at 13 .1% in England.

Professor Becky Francis, Chief Executive of the EEF, said: “We know that pupils who are constantly absent from school are less likely to succeed academically.

“But as the new review of the evidence shows today, we know much less about the best ways to improve attendance.

“While research finds positive impacts for approaches such as engaging with parents and responding to individual student needs, overall the evidence on what works to reduce absenteeism is weak.

“Teachers deserve a much clearer picture of how best to support their students who are constantly absent. Our new funding round with the Youth Endowment Fund will help fill some of these evidence gaps, by identifying and evaluating promising interventions, programs and approaches. »

Jon Yates, chief executive of the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF), said: “Being away from school not only limits a child’s ability to succeed academically, but also puts them at risk of exploitation. criminal or trapped in dangerous domestic environments.”

“Absences from school mean that children cannot receive the support they might need from their teachers or pastoral staff, which could protect them from harm. Simply put, to keep kids safe, we need to know how to keep them in school. »

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said “the students most likely to be absent from school are often those who are vulnerable and struggle the most in education”.

He added that improving the attendance of these students was “vital to improving their performance and their chances in life”. While schools were already working hard to do this, the EEF’s findings showed that they lacked solid evidence on what approaches worked.

“However, this issue is not just about the approaches used, it is also about the resources available,” he said.

“Over the past decade central government has decimated funding for local authority education support services, reducing the ability of these services to support pupils and parents and tackle persistent absences. At the same time, he cut funding to schools, which made it harder for schools to provide pastoral support to students facing challenges and obstacles.

“The Government is currently focusing on improving attendance, particularly in the wake of the Covid pandemic, and it is right to do so. But it must recognize that an effective and sustainable intervention at scale national level requires an appropriate level of investment.