How to improve school attendance

This page includes an overview of whole-school and individual strategies to improve school attendance.

What schools can do

  • Promote and maintain high levels of attendance through whole school strategies.
  • Regularly monitor attendance patterns to identify patterns that may show a student or group is at risk of disengaging.
  • Consider student and family circumstances that may explain patterns of poor attendance and look at specific support.

Factors influencing attendance

It's important to have a clear picture of all the possible factors when working to improve 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.
  • A general dislike of the school environment.
  • Social competence and confidence leading to conflict 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, feeling unsafe or having anxiety.
  • 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 to intervene

Consider implementing improvement strategies when a student has been absent more than five days in a term for any reason. This includes approved health-related absences.

You should also follow up and implement improvement strategies where:

  • the absence is having a significant impact on a student's education
  • the student has been truant (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.

It's important to understand the cause of absences and respond quickly. You should work with the student and their family to find the best way to manage poor attendance so it does not become an entrenched pattern.

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 two 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.
  • 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

Tools to help improve attendance

If you have exhausted strategies for addressing unsatisfactory attendance, further action may be appropriate.

Attendance student support group

Use an attendance student support group if it becomes apparent that a student needs ongoing intensive support.

The group should:

  • include the parent, 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 welfare staff.
  • ensure the parent is aware of the absences and understands the educational implications for the student
  • identify the reasons for the student absences
  • develop a student attendance improvement plan, a return to school plan or an individual education plan
  • identify additional supports that the student 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.

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.

Download a return to school plan template (doc - 76.5kb).

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.

Contact your closest regional office.

Referral to wellbeing services

If you identify behaviour, health or social issues causing poor attendance, you should access specialised support.

For government schools this includes:

Re-engagement programs

Re-engagement programs offer tailored support for students who are disengaged, or are at risk of disengaging from mainstream school. The programs runs outside the mainsteam school setting.

Disengaged young people who meet the eligibility criteria may also be referred directly to the Navigator program.

Referral to a school attendance officer

If you've exhausted strategies for addressing a student’s unsatisfactory attendance, it may be appropriate to refer to a school attendance officer​.

Meeting with parents

Any strategy or plan to improve attendance should be developed with the student's parents.

At the first meeting, the principal or nominee should focus on:

  • establishing a shared understanding of accountability and strategies for improving attendance
  • ensuring parents are aware of the absences and fully appreciate the educational implications for the student
  • identifying the reasons for the absences
  • exploring any factors preventing attendance or participation
  • requesting parents engage with alternative strategies to improve attendance
  • identifying appropriate attendance improvement strategies
  • documenting which improvement strategy has been selected, with clear discussion about the ways in which it will be monitored and when it will be reviewed
  • explaining the possible consequences of repeated non-attendance, including referral to a attendance officer.

Meetings with parents should feel supportive rather than disciplinary, with a focus on positive and proactive solutions.

Consider cultural and language differences, and if translated material or if an interpreter should be provided.

The family should be given the opportunity to discuss cultural practices, or to invite a cultural leader to discuss cultural practices on their behalf if relevant to the meeting.

For supporting materials, see attendance resources for schools.