Tackling non attendance in schools a practical approach
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Tackling non-attendance in schools A practical approach. Professor Dolf van Veen National Centre on Education and Youth Care Netherlands Youth Institute. Structure of the presentation. Amsterdam project: overview and findings Emerging successful strategies

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Tackling non-attendance in schoolsA practical approach

Professor Dolf van Veen

National Centre on Education and Youth Care

Netherlands Youth Institute


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Structure of the presentation

  • Amsterdam project: overview and findings

  • Emerging successful strategies

  • Promising strategies (international perspective)

  • Recommendations


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Recommendations (international research)

  • Few rigorous, systematic studies; most of the research is on intervention programmes, on how schools contribute to NA and on how school disengagement relates to increased attendance. No silver bullit approaches!

  • NA as functional problem (motivation, family) or indicator of disengagement to which school culture/structure contribute

  • Parental intervention is less effective with older students

  • Strategies to encourage personalization are even more important for older children

  • Strategies to encourage academic achievement are a driving force in policy and practice (plus funding, ranking schools, reduction behaviour problems and dropout)


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Recommendations (international research)

  • attendance policies

    • sound and reasonable

    • communicated and understood

    • differences between excused/non-excused absences

    • parent notification and home-school contact

  • early interventions

    • home-school contact

    • early support when pupils start struggling or become disengaged (in SEd first year!)

    • fixed homework and bedtimes

    • to get ready for school


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Recommendations (international research)

  • targeted interventions (chronic truancy problems)

    • in-school or rebound programmes

    • academic, behavioural, family and health support

    • include health and human services (BEST)

  • strategies for increasing student engagement and personalization

    • family involvement (communication, parent evening, home visits for extended NA, phone calls no letters-policy)

    • personalized learning

    • smaller learning units (schools-within-a-school, cluster teams/house plans, caring relationships)

    • mentoring


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Recommendations (international research)

  • student advisories

  • culturally responsive school culture

  • alternative programmes

  • hold students accountable for completing assignments

  • extended school days and service learning


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Amsterdam project: overview

  • 4 year R&D-programme to improve attendance in Amsterdam 200 primary and 45 secondary schools

  • focus on children and youth 10-15 year old (last two years in primary schools, first three in secondary) and on prevention-registration-early warning-intervention

  • identification of key challenges and successful or promising strategies

  • features of our approach: school- and research-based, field experiments and upscaling/implementation support


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Amsterdam project: baseline findings

  • 3100 pupils (10-15 year) are not in school (9%)

  • average non-attendance in secondary education is 12% (1st year 6%, 3rd year 17%), in primary education 3.7%, in special education 6%

  • huge differences between schools: range in primary 0-20%, special education 0-38%, secondary 0-53%

  • 85% of parents inform the primary school, in secondary 1st year 68%, 3th 40%; many schools don’t know why kids are not in school (no follow up, after one week reasons unclear in 30-50% of the cases)

  • 1300 pupils (42%) are seen as problematic and at risk


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Amsterdam project: baseline findings

  • (authorized) daily illness is 2% in PEd and 5% in SEd

  • truancy in secondary is 4% and 0.4% in primary education

  • non-attendance and truancy (extended NA) are higher if parents and schools are more tolerant

  • important risk factors are low-achievers/slow learners, school type, educational level of the parents, cumulation of youth at risk in a class/year group

  • non-attendance in some ethnic-minority groups is lower, non-authorized non-attendance is higher

  • complex relation between school quality and non-attendance


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Amsterdam project: key challenges

  • understanding the reasons for non-attendance and truancy

  • efficient system for dealing with being late and absenteeism

  • sufficient staff during peak hours (morning) to deal with phone calls from parents and with follow up

  • clear definitions of (authorized and non-authorized) non-attendance and truancy

  • registration/monitoring systems should include school responses on non-attendance and results of strategies

  • improve day/week schedules and the distribution of homework assignments


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Amsterdam project: key challenges

  • improve communication with parents and pupils, parental involvement, and student support services

  • maintaining strict and fair policies and increase personalized and supportive responses

  • increase in sophisticated registration systems in SEd: high on procedures and ‘punishment’, low on follow up and pedagogy and on the evaluation of school data

  • improve homework policy (and support)

  • improve classroom and school climate (SEd): from tourists to citizens in the classroom


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Amsterdam project: selected interventions

  • experiment in 30 primary schools with high non-attendance rates: focus on improved registration, follow up, intensified communication with parents and targeted interventions

  • experiment in 6 secondary schools with solid attendance registration: focus on developing fast and problem adequate and effective responses

  • experiment in 1 low-performing secondary school: focus on consistency management and co-operative discipline (CMCD)

  • experiment in 12 secondary schools: focus on building improved learning and behaviour support teams and on fast responses in case of (frequent) illness


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Amsterdam project: findings four years later

  • from 9% to 12% of pupils (10-15) are not in school

  • non-attendance in secondary education from 12% to 13.4%, in primary education from 3.7% to 4.2%

  • non-attendance informed by parents from 85% to 58% in primary schools, and from 68% to 25% (1st year) and from 40% to 22% (4th year) in secondary schools

  • school follow up: in PEd from 56% to 23%, in SEd from 57% to 61% (but a 35% decrease in fast interventions)

  • average daily illness in PEd from 2% to 3.3% and in secondary from 5% to 1.9%


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Amsterdam project: findings field experiments

  • CMCD-project in SEd: improved attendance, lower discipline referrals, improved attainment

  • PEd-project (NA-coordinator): improved registration and follow up resulted initially in increased non-attendance, followed by significant lower levels of non-attendance; being late disappeared and lower levels of illness.

  • SEd-project (Illness): standard procedure (school doctor interviews parents/pupils whom are not in school 5 consecutive days or have missed 25 or more lessons in 4 weeks) is highly effective


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Amsterdam project: findings field experiments

  • SEd-project (BEST): improved results for frequent NA and youth at risk (f.i. lower levels of NA)

  • SEd-project (targeting non-authorized NA the same day): being late reduced dramatically, understanding of NA increased (school factors f.i. schedule, specific classes/teachers, distribution of homework, need for extra learning support) as well as problem adequate responses; improved attendance and students perceived better support


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Lessons learned

  • registration is important as well as rapid responses and identifying the reasons for non-attendance; analysis of data at pupil, class, year group and school level are vital to understand NA and develop sound strategies

  • effective school strategies for NA need to be embedded in the archetecture of the pupil and parent support system

  • non-attendance is lower if teaching and learning are personalized, if students feel ‘missed’ and when students like to be at school

  • personal (and phone) contact with parents is vital, stimulate peers to visit the pupil and pay attention to the (home)work they have missed


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Lessons learned

  • NA signals that children and youth face difficulties

    • discipline and stressors related to developmental tasks

    • lack of parental support or too much control

    • family issues, negative peer culture, violence/protection

    • with teaching and learning, motivation, locus of control

  • NA reflects that schools face challenges

    • learning environment/school climate and structure

    • competenties and attitudes of teachers/personnel

    • internal support structure

    • communicating existing supports to families/youngsters

    • activating health and human services


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Recommendations for policy and practice

  • (local and national) authorities can support schools by:

    • promoting (supports for) successful educational careers

    • developing a supportive regional social infrastructure that works collaboratively with schools to promote positive behaviour, development and educational attainment

    • good practices and realistic standards and guidelines concerning registration, monitoring and effective strategies

  • Teachers/schools/boards:

    • make students feel ‘missed’, personalize and provide support

    • create healthy, safe, stimulating and hospitable schools

    • improve inter-agency collaboration, less talk, more actions

    • from tourists to citizens in the classroom ...!


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More information?

Professor Dolf van Veen

National Centre on Education and Youth Care

Netherlands Youth Institute

Catharijnesingel 47

3510 DD Utrecht

The Netherlands

31-30-230 6693

[email protected]




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