The Understanding Attendance School Network

What is the Understanding Attendance Project? 

ImpactEd Evaluation launched ‘Understanding Attendance’ in Spring 2023 as a national research project to help schools better understand the underlying social, emotional and behavioural drivers behind attendance. The first Understanding Attendance report published in January 2024 shared key findings about the drivers of attendance based on surveys with over 30,000 young people and attendance data for over 200,000 pupils.

The Understanding Attendance School Network

Now with over 300 schools involved in the project, we want to facilitate opportunities for schools to connect with one another. Last term we were increasingly hearing from our partners that they were keen to speak with other schools facing similar challenges and wanted to both hear about and share ideas and innovations that might be working elsewhere. 

In response to this feedback, on 25th April 2024, we hosted our first online Understanding Attendance School Network gathering. With attendees from 30 different schools registered, the main objective of the event was to facilitate peer-to-peer conversations discussing the challenges and successes when working to improve attendance.

We were also grateful to be joined by Rob Coles, Secondary School Improvement Lead for the Education South West trust. Rob shared his first-hand experience and advice on how six schools within his trust had effectively utilised data insights from their baseline reports to inform their attendance interventions and practices within each of their own specific contexts.

Understanding the potential drivers of low attendance

The Understanding Attendance project focuses on seven different social, emotional and behavioural measures that commonly impact or correlate with attendance.  At the event, we chose the three of these that schools most wanted to discuss to focus on within our break-out discussion groups: a psychological sense of school membership; pupils’ school engagement and enjoyment during learning time; and lastly pupils’ understanding of the importance of attendance. 

During these conversations, schools shared how they are raising awareness of the importance of attendance - both amongst pupils (often shifting towards shorter timeframes for rewards and focusing on improvement rather than 100% attendance) and also parents (working on adapting the language used in communications, e.g. ‘absences’ or ‘lost learning’ rather than percentages).  Schools are also looking into ways of engaging pupils who are struggling to enjoy learning and school life. One school was working with an external organisation to help pupils reduce stress and anxiety and build personal strategies to improve resilience in the classroom. When discussing interventions to build a sense of school membership, it was clear this was perhaps the greatest area of uncertainty for schools as it often presented far more complex challenges to address. Over the next term we’ll be working to gather examples with a focus on building a sense of membership from across the 300 schools we’re working with, and finding out more about what they’re doing in this space. We look forward to sharing these findings with the sector over the coming months.

Understanding the challenges 

Schools also wanted the opportunity to hear the main attendance challenges others were facing, and have a place to share suggestions on how to overcome them. Our discussions focused on four main challenges that had emerged from our conversations with partners: parental engagement, Year 7-8 transition, rewards and sanctions, and internal truancy. 

Schools not only shared challenges but also successful strategies for overcoming them. One school was working to reduce the drop in attendance (and social and emotional scores) between Year 7 to Year 8 by replicating the team and the great work they currently do with Year 6 pupils transitioning into Year 7. Another school shared how they were improving  parental engagement. Their approaches included parental consultation days;  translated versions of all written communication with parents; and discussing attendance at parents’ evenings to ensure parents are aware of the link between attendance and attainment.

What’s next?

We want to say a big thank you to all those who attended the event, and shared the many strategies they are trialling. We’re looking forward to hosting more Understanding Attendance’ School Network events in the future to take a more in-depth look at specific strategies partners are evaluating as part of the Understanding Attendance project. Partners can reach out to their partnership manager for more details on future network events.

We’re also looking forward to sharing our next report and open event with the sector later this year. These will follow on from our January report and spotlight examples of how partners are addressing the drivers of low attendance in their setting, what’s working and any lessons learnt so far. 

You can find out more about the Understanding Attendance project here and if you have any questions or would like to get involved, please reach out to us at

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