What Should School Attendance Targets be?

By Jocelyn Levy | 2nd November 2020 | 8 min read

When you think about attendance targets in schools, it’s easy to immediately think that the highest possible attendance should be encouraged. Is a relentless pursuit of high attendance always the right approach?

Why rewarding high attendance can be damaging

Some schools in Union City Tennessee have taken the pursuit of high attendance targets to the extreme. To tackle what they describe as persistent absenteeism, the city is offering a number of prizes to students who achieve strong attendance records, the most lavish of which is a car. Students with perfect attendance will enter a prize draw to receive the vehicle. Other prizes include cash, movie tickets and class parties.

We’ve seen a move away from this kind of approach by a lot of schools here in the UK. While they seem like a logical approach to getting high attendance, they are unfair and discriminatory. Children with serious medical conditions never have a chance of winning.

They also de-value the importance of well-being. Sometimes, the best thing for a students physical or mental health is to not attend school. One MP in a recent House of Commons debate on children and mental health services said the unrealistic attendance targets of Ofsted is causing schools to be reluctant to give students the time off they needed to better deal with mental health issues in particular.

Some schools were unwilling to approve time off for students to attend CAMHS [Child and adolescent mental health services] appointments until the student had received a diagnosis. It can take up to 18 months for such diagnosis to be received.

In these situations, the failure to grant approved leave to those students only exacerbate the issue, putting more stress on the student and family.

Is reaching attendance targets more important than wellbeing?

The attendance targets for schools should still be high, but the mental and physical health of students should always remain the number one priority. High attendance should be willingly sacrificed when it is in a student’s best interest.

The accurate recording of attendance is one thing all schools should try and achieve regardless. Schools need systems, whether in primary or secondary, that reliably keep records, so schools can make the correct judgements and decisions regarding student absence.

BioStore’s attendance system help schools record attendance simply making the daily task convenient and time efficient. In primary schools the solution combines morning registration and in-class meal ordering to increase teaching time. In a secondary school eRegistration IDPoints are placed outside each classroom where students can register their attendance through a fingerprint or smartcard authentication. Find out more here.

Related links & news stories

TES: ‘Heavy-handed’ attendance targets damage mental health

KFVS: School district offers students attendance incentives, includes a car