Littleover Community School staff 'never lose an opportunity to remind children of importance of attending lessons'
Littleover Community School is in the top 10 schools in the country for its pupil attendance figures. Head teacher Ash Venkatesh explains why it has so few children playing truant.
I WAS delighted to see that our figures for school attendance at Littleover Community School compare well with those of any school in the country.
At a time when we are bombarded with statistics of every kind, it might seem strange to celebrate this particular set of figures. However, I believe that it does tell us something important about our school and, more widely, about education in general.
We might start by considering why attendance matters. Are we right to spend so much time and effort on this single aspect of schooling, given all the other pressures on us to meet the latest targets set by Government and Ofsted for achievement, progress and so on? I believe that we are, for two main reasons.
Firstly, pupils have to attend in order to learn. This seems too obvious to be worth stating but I make no apology for making this statement again and again. Teachers plan a sequence of lessons so that children will make real progress in their learning over time. Any interruption to this sequence due to a pupil being absent will inevitably get in the way of learning.
Extra work may help in catching up but there is no substitute for being there in the first place. It is no surprise to see a clear correlation between good attendance and high achievement.
At Littleover, we are, of course, proud of our sustained record of excellent examination results; this rests firmly on the foundation of excellent attendance.
Once pupils are at school, they need to behave well and to work hard; teachers play a vital role in this but, however good the teachers are, children who are not in school will find it hard to learn effectively.
Secondly, we are preparing pupils for life beyond school. On this point, one statistic we take really seriously is the so-called NEET figure. This measures the percentage of 16-year-old leavers who are not engaged in employment, education or training.
I am pleased to say that in recent years every single one of our leavers has gone on to worthwhile activity after leaving school, so our NEET figure has been 0%.
When pupils finally reach the job market, they will find that a key requirement of employers is good attendance.
Nobody wants to take on an employee who can't be relied upon to turn up for work. Anything we can do as a school to boost attendance gets young people into good habits and lets them build up a track record of good attendance, which is reflected in their references and helps them find employment.
So, what do we do to promote good attendance? We monitor the attendance of pupils closely. My colleagues ring home if a pupil is not in school and encourage an early return.
The daily absence data is checked by staff and patterns of absence for particular children are identified and acted upon. I receive a weekly printout of attendance, and so I am regularly reminded of how things are going.
We never lose an opportunity to remind children (and their parents) of the importance of attendance, from even before they come to Littleover.
The Year Six open evening is only the first of the many occasions when we "go on" about attendance; the expectation is clear from the start.
We will not condone absence for family holidays. Everyone knows where we stand on this. Of course many holidays are cheaper outside school holiday time but we should not send a message to our children that it is OK to miss a week or two of lessons.
In the end, most parents do support our policy, because they want their children to do well.
There is sufficient flexibility to allow for particularly unusual circumstances but we will not allow a pupil's education to be damaged by absence when there is any alternative at all. As far as illness goes, we always give the message that it is better to be at school, even if you are not feeling 100%, rather than sitting at home. I am proud of the children I see every day who will not be defeated by a cold and are determined not to lose their full attendance record.
One high-profile thing we do is to celebrate the attendance of Year 11 pupils who have had no time off for a full five years. Usually, there are at least 10 such pupils, and often there are many more. These children are treated to breakfast at a local hotel during their last week at school, and Telegraph readers may remember the photographs each May.
Within school, we do also issue certificates regularly to pupils with excellent attendance in all year groups.
As a school we try to set a good example. We are well known for being very reluctant to close the school; snow will not defeat us and closure will always be the very last resort. This policy is appreciated by the vast majority of parents. Again, people know exactly where we stand.
Most importantly, we are always trying to engage children in good, interesting and challenging lessons which they value and remember. If that is what they are receiving, why would anyone want to miss a day?
None of the actions I have described are anything new or radical, and other schools are taking similar steps. However, what seems to make the difference is that our pupils and parents place an extremely high value on education, so that we are all working together and pulling in the same direction.
Parents are vital for the support they give but in the end it is the children themselves who enjoy school, see the great things which education can do for them and show great determination not only to attend school but to work hard once they get there.
This culture of aspiration is truly infectious. Having worked in many other schools around the country, I think myself lucky every day to be going to work at Littleover, alongside so many other people who also want to be there.