Improving attendance

Whole-school strategies and tools for schools to improve student attendance and identify the signs of disengagement.

What can schools do?

Whole-school strategies and clear understandings of processes are important for promoting attendance. Principals and all school staff play an important role in developing and reinforcing clear understandings of the shared expectations for attendance amongst schools, students and parents.

Schools can promote and maintain high levels of student attendance and participation through developing whole school strategies.

Through regular monitoring of attendance and absence patterns, schools may identify that a student or cohort is at risk of poor attendance or becoming disengaged.

Principals and teachers are best placed to recognise attendance patterns that may be an indication of other stress factors. Students can be absent from school for a range of reasons, depending on the age and circumstance of the student and their family. The reasons for a student's absence may be complex and interrelated.

Factors influencing attendance

It is important to have a clear picture of all the possible factors when developing a response or initiative to improve attendance and to keep in mind that schools can influence attendance.

Some of the factors influencing attendance include:

School factors
  • inconsistent or unclear attendance policies
  • student behaviour management; schools expectations of students (e.g. work load, testing, performance); levels of support for students and relationships with teachers; attitudes of teachers, students and administrators
  • ability and willingness to engage the diverse cultures and learning needs/styles of students
  • teaching quality
  • effective monitoring by schools of attendance and a timely and meaningful response when issues arise for a student is critical to ensuring attendance rates remain high
  • learning needs that are not being addressed in the classroom or unidentified learning difficulties
  • lack of timely and appropriate intervention.
Family Factors
  • specific parental behaviours such as limited monitoring of student whereabouts
  • parents not being aware of attendance law and obligations
  • lack of parental insistence that children go to school in the morning
  • differing views about education or the value of education
  • competing family priorities; for example, conflicts, getting organised, babysitting, interpreting for parents, transport, holidays or students caring for other family members
  • parents with multiple jobs
  • single parent families.
Low socio-economic factors
  • the need for student employment to supplement family incomes
  • lack of affordable transportation to school
  • domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol abuse
  • employment obligations of parents/carers and inflexible employers
  • cultural obligations; for example Sorry Business or commitments by families to attend significant cultural obligations, such as Chinese New Year
  • higher family mobility rates
  • lack of affordable child care for students with parenting responsibilities.
Student factors
  • past negative school experiences, lack of interest in school and education and levels of self-insight and knowledge about future pathways and the links between school attendance, educational outcomes and work, personal occupational goals and school completion
  • student academic self-concept
  • social competence and confidence leading to conflict and/or isolation
  • students' health and wellbeing; for example, low self-esteem, high levels of anxiety or physical health
  • habituated school absence or misunderstanding or ignorance of attendance laws and incentives
  • being bullied
  • levels of attention in classes
  • lower levels of literacy and numeracy achievement
  • a need to demonstrate 'adult' behaviour, a rejection of authority
  • drug and alcohol use
  • difficulties at the time of transitions.

When should schools intervene?

While schools have limited influence over many of the factors that impact student attendance understanding the cause of absences is critical to identifying the appropriate intervention.

Responding quickly by working in partnership with students and their families is the most effective way to manage absences and disengagement so that patterns do not become entrenched.

Schools should consider implementing improvement strategies when a student has been absent more than five days in a term for any reason including parent-approved health-related absences. They should also follow up and implement improvement strategies where:

  • the absence is having a significant impact on a student's educational attainment, achievement and development - this will depend on number of days absent, number of consecutive days, reason for the absence, time of year, age of the student and the type of learning that will occur outside school
  • the student has been truanting (absent without parental consent)
  • a parent reports that a student refuses to attend school
  • there has been no explanation for the student's absence
  • a parent repeatedly fails to provide a reasonable excuse.

Strategies to improve attendance

Here are five strategies to help you influence and improve attendance:

Create a positive school culture
  • develop an instructional model that focuses on high-quality teaching and learning – classes that are stimulating and organised support student engagement and attendance
  • create an environment where students want to be at school and on time
  • create an environment that is safe, inclusive and caring of all members of the school community
  • develop class and home group structures that enable increased connectedness to individual teachers and peers
  • get to know your students – positive relationships with teachers are a significant factor in student engagement
  • encourage teachers to show concern for students who have been absent and have returned to school
  • build positive relationships with parents to assist in improving student attendance
  • develop an approach to student management that is positive, restorative, respectful and consistent
  • create a culture that models and values punctuality
  • implement effective and supportive transition programs, including transitions between different learning areas and levels within the school, and pathways and career support programs
  • build a collaborative network with other local schools to enhance transitions and improve attendance
  • create a teaching culture that recognises and supports individual learning differences
  • avoid suspensions for truancy and consider positive efforts to engage/reengage students.
Communicate high expectations
  • develop a strong and clear attendance policy with clear and realistic targets. Distribute to parents through the website, transition packs, enrolment packs and information evenings
  • promote awareness that an absence results in quantifiable lost learning time and opportunities, , talk about absences in terms that students and parents can easily understand - for example, 'missing one day each week means that you miss out on about 2 weeks of lessons each term'
  • inform parents about the current research that links attendance with student achievement levels and long term health and wellbeing outcomes
  • develop consistent and clear messages for the school community about the importance of attendance through the website, newsletter, social media, assemblies and information evenings
  • communicate with parents about their obligation to inform schools, in a timely manner, about the reasons for a student absence
  • inform parents about the wellbeing support that is available for students who are anxious about coming to school
  • encourage parents not to condone absences for reasons such as shopping or birthdays
  • communicate to parents that family holidays should be planned in term holidays not during the school term
  • emphasise to students and parents that teachers plan sequential lessons and that regular non-attendance can severely disrupt learning
  • use technology that is appropriate for your school community to alert parents to non-attendance e.g. text messages or video messages
  • encourage parents to be positive about school and to set up routines that support students to get to school on time
  • collaborate with parents to develop an attendance improvement plan or return to school plan that addresses practical issues such as getting an alarm clock, negotiating transport, or changing family routines
  • encourage parents to seek support from, and communicate regularly with, teachers and other school staff.
Monitor and follow up absences
  • implement data-driven attendance improvement strategies – monitor and analyse student attendance records and use tools for early identification of students at-risk of poor attendance
  • use a student attendance data management system (e.g. CASES21, eCASES) and correctly enter attendance codes
  • investigate trends in lateness and attendance across the week, the year, year levels genders and cultural groups to identify students who at risk and develop a plan to support them
  • regularly discuss student attendance in staff meetings and in staff performance and development plans so that trends and students at risk can be identified. Reiterate to staff the importance of accurate and prompt roll marking
  • set attendance targets for the whole school and year level cohorts
  • identify a key member of staff to lead attendance improvement strategies
  • ensure parents are contacted as soon a practicable on the same day as a student absence
  • take a 'no tolerance' approach to unexplained absences by setting a zero unexplained absence target for every student
  • follow up with parents who have not provided an explanation for a student absence
  • have one on one conversations with individual students about their attendance and explore the reasons why they have been away
  • schedule fun events on days that normally have poor school attendance.
Provide intervention and support
  • understand the causal factors of absence and the need for targeted interventions
  • intervene early if a student's attendance begins to deteriorate
  • utilise the student mapping tool or similar early identification strategy
  • offer support for parents if their child refuses to go to school
  • address barriers to attendance such as bullying and friendship issues
  • provide or arrange for material aid to students who require uniform, stationery and/or textbooks
  • offer one on one sessions for students who require additional learning, wellbeing or pathways support
  • set up an attendance student support group meeting to explore the reasons for a student's absences and to develop an attendance improvement plan or a return to school plan
  • access specialist support by making appropriate referrals to students support services or external allied health professionals and community agencies and organisations
  • collaborate with other schools, organisations and community groups
  • work closely with families and agencies when families are suffering hardships or are in crisis to ensure that students are in school in an environment that is safe and orderly
  • conduct information sessions for parents on how to address issues such as school refusal and separation anxiety problems
  • identify a mentor for students who are at risk and develop an individual education plan.
Rewards, incentives and other targeted activities
  • offer a breakfast program which provides an organised start to the day for many students and also engages parents who stay on for a tea/coffee
  • establish an early morning exercise group for targeted students. Maintain records of attendance and celebrate with an end of term breakfast
  • acknowledge students who have excellent attendance through certificates, letters of acknowledgment, badges and assemblies
  • develop extra-curricular activities that cater for a range of different interests and skills (e.g. a Dr Who club, chess club, school production)
  • arrange special interest lunchtime clubs and activities each day
  • create cross-age programs and activities such as peer support programs
  • create incentive programs where students whose attendance improves can enter a draw to win vouchers
  • include students in calculating/graphing their monthly attendance
  • organise monthly rewards such as a BBQ or extra sports activity for students who have attended every day
  • organise a friendly competition between rooms or classes or sections of the school based on attendance for the term
  • introduce attendance prizes for each term
  • send reminders to students at the end of each day about the exciting things they can expect to happen the next day
  • be responsive to and creative about supporting the interests of cohorts of students as a way of increasing engagement.

Engagement strategies

Schools can have a positive influence on student attendance by increasing student engagement.

Adopt an active role in fostering positive, open communication with students and parents.

Promoting school attendance, building a positive school climate, monitoring attendance, and supporting students and families to address barriers that influence school attendance are all key elements in helping students to improve their attendance and maximise their educational attainment.

Most students consistently rate school as important or very important. Equally, they rate coping with stress, school or study problems as one of their top issues of concern. Declining attendance or a change in attendance patterns may be an early warning sign of early disengagement. Any intervention or initiative needs to be mindful of the reasons why students may be absent from school.

Follow these strategies when:

Engaging with students

To influence student engagement and attendance, schools can:

  • create a safe and caring school environment that recognises that all staff in a school are responsible for student wellbeing, engagement and attendance
  • build positive relationships - know your students and their strengths and interests
  • be aware of the individual circumstances of your students that may be effecting their day to day connectedness with school
  • know that great teachers make the biggest difference to students – use evidence-based strategies in your teaching to have a greater impact on student learning outcomes
  • recognise that students of the same age will be at different points in their learning and progress at different rates
  • use student data to plan learning activities and assessment tasks
  • talk positively to students about school attendance and the connections with improved outcomes later in life
  • talk to students about how school is better when they are there
  • collaborate closely with feeder schools/kindergartens to develop comprehensive transition programs and supports vulnerable students
  • share relevant student information with year level coordinators and wellbeing staff and make referrals for additional wellbeing support when needed
  • monitor student attendance and intervene early if there is a change; cross reference attendance data and achievement data to track changes and identify at-risk students.

Intervene early for high-risk students

Individual attendance is likely to be underpinned by complex and ingrained social, emotional and learning factors. To support high risk students, schools need to:

  • intervene early
  • work in partnership with families and community agencies to develop a case management approach
  • develop strategies that consider the individual circumstances of a student and that are grounded in the context of a well-considered whole school approach
  • formulate an attendance improvement plan that is:
    • developed collaboratively with the student and parents/carers
    • under-pinned by a student centred program that matches a student's abilities, interests and needs
    • provides ongoing monitoring
    • utilises and facilitates programs and scaffolds of support from across the school and community.

For more information see: Working with Vulnerable andDiverse Students

Engaging with families

Research shows that parent in school life is one of the factors most closely associated with improved student learning outcomes. Schools need to proactively build positive relationships with parents that are based on trust, open communication and respect.

Schools can:

  • contact parents to let them know how their child is going at school
  • consider ways to involve parents in the school
  • communicate and promote the school's attendance policy and expectations
  • follow up in a timely fashion about student absences
  • share consistent, clear messages about attendance in a range of forums such as parent information evenings, social media and the school website
  • make the connection between school and attendance positive/adverse life outcomes clear
  • talk about attendance in language that is easy to understand, e.g. missing one day per fortnight equates to 20 days or four weeks per year and nearly 1.5 years of school in total
  • collaborate with parents to support students and to develop appropriate plans
  • support parents/carers to access community supports and assistance
  • keep records of all attempts to contact parents and students about attendance and any information obtained.

For more information, see: Working with parents

Engaging with communities

Schools are often the central hub of communities. They are in a unique position to leverage their position to create community partnerships that help all students succeed in school and life. Like families, engaging with the wider community is important for student outcomes and for spreading the message that attending school is important.

Schools can:

  • build community partnerships with local agencies, organisations and sporting clubs
  • participate in community programs
  • promote off-campus learning and projects
  • improve communication between home, school and the wider community
  • coordinate a local attendance program in collaboration other schools and organisations
  • work with local police to ensure young people who should be in school are encouraged to attend and supported to engage with services to assist them
  • create and maintain contact with relevant health professionals in the area to support referrals.

Student views on non-attendance

Student views on non-attendance offer schools an insight into ways to improve school attendance. Students with low attendance report a range of reasons for this, including:

  • poor relationships with teachers
  • student perception of the teacher being uncaring or unorganised
  • a general dislike of the atmosphere of schools or a dislike of schoolwork
  • school programs that are seen by students as irrelevant, too difficult or too easy
  • preferring to truant and deal with the consequences rather than attend school
  • suspensions
  • feeling unsafe
  • issues such as anxiety.

Early warning signs of disengagement

  • frequent lateness
  • leaving school before the end of the school day
  • missing lessons
  • siblings with poor attendance
  • minimal completion of school work
  • not participating in school events such as sports days
  • increased conflict with staff and peers
  • increased non-compliance with school expectations and standards.

Tools and support to help improve attendance

When schools have exhausted strategies for addressing a student’s unsatisfactory attendance, further action may be appropriate including:

  • pursuing an intensive intervention approach
  • reporting a concern through the child and family services system
  • referring to a school attendance officer who may issue a school attendance notice. 

The avenue to pursue will depend on a variety of factors including:

  • the underlying cause of the absences
  • the history of engagement with the student’s parents
  • any precedent set by the school.

The following tools and supports are recommended/available:

Attendance Student Support Group

When attendance issues are identified and it becomes apparent that a student may need ongoing intensive support, an attendance student support group should be convened by the principal (or nominee). The attendance student student support group should:

  • be attended by the parent of the student, a parent’s advocate (if required), a teacher nominated as having responsibility for the student, the principal or nominee (to act as chairperson), the student (where appropriate) and relevant school based welfare staff (where appropriate)
  • ensure the parent is aware of the absences and understands the educational implications for the student
  • identify the reasons for the student absences
  • work collaboratively to develop a student attendance improvement plan, a return to school plan and/or an individual education plan
  • identify additional supports that the student and/or family may require.

For more information, see: Attendance Support Group guidance (docx - 30.28kb)

To download attendance improvement plans, see:

Individual engagement plan

Individual education plans may be suitable as an intervention to improve attendance if issues are identified with a student’s education level, such as their literacy or numeracy levels, or if poor engagement in learning is identified as contributing to the student’s attendance pattern. For more information, see: Individual engagement plan

Return to school plan

To assist in the reintegration of a student after a prolonged absence, a return to school plan and an attendance student support group meeting is vital for many students who are:

  • involved in the youth justice system
  • experiencing or who have experienced a period of homelessness
  • experiencing mental or physical illnesses.

To download the plan, see: Return to school plan

Support from department regional offices

Regional wellbeing and engagement officers can:

  • suggest further attendance improvement strategies
  • suggest community agencies that may be available to assist the child and family
  • assist with placement in another school or a re-engagement program external to the school
  • discuss protective concerns for a child and the suitability of making a referral to Child First or child protection
  • provide support to schools to broker solutions for complex individual attendance cases.

To find your nearest regional office, see: Regions

Referral to a school attendance officer

When schools have exhausted strategies for addressing a student’s unsatisfactory attendance, further action may be appropriate including referring to a school attendance officer who may issue a school attendance notice. See: Referral to a school attendance officer

Refer to wellbeing services, Child Protection or Child First

For more information, see: Working with vulnerable and diverse students