School attendance is vital for a child’s academic success. Unfortunately, some parents think there is little harm in letting their kids have a day off, every once in a while. ‘Chronic’ or ‘persistent’ absence is when students miss 10% or more of their school time. In autumn 2019, a worrying 13% of children across primary and secondary schools in England were identified as having chronic absence. The rate is increasing compared to previous years.
Several research studies have suggested that such poor attendance is strongly linked to reduced school achievement. While parents and guardians are responsible for getting their children to school every day, there are tools for schools to try to do everything they can to help with this.
A recent research has suggested that a simple text messaging system might improve attendance and reduce chronic absences…
What did they do?
The US department of Education conducted a study with over 23,000 primary school-age children. The families of these children were randomly assigned to different versions of a text messaging strategy designed to improve attendance.
From October 2017, one group received messages focused on the benefits of attending school, another received messages on the consequences of missing school, and a control group received no messages.
After introduction of the texts, the children who were absent more than 8% of school time between October and December were identified. The families of these children then received more intensive text messaging. Some received these as automated texts, and others were contacted directly by school staff.
Using this system, the researchers assessed whether sending parents text messages increased attendance, and improved school achievement. They could also identify which texts were the most effective.
What did they find?
All the different text message approaches reduced the rate of chronic absence. Promisingly, the biggest reduction in absences was for students with a history of poor attendance.
One interesting finding was that it didn’t make a difference whether the initial texts were benefit or consequence focused. Both of these text types were equally effective. However, when the texts intensified for the families of children showing high absence, the texts directly from school staff were more effective in reducing absence that the automated texts.
Despite the improved attendance, the researchers did not find any effect of the texts on achievement at the end of the school year (although any effect on achievement could be gradual and longer-term, so not picked up by this study).
Overall, the researchers suggested that texting can reduce chronic absence up to 18% in a school year. What’s more, the study found that using the daily text messaging service on a large scale was feasible, low cost, and well accepted by parents.
What does this mean?
This research shows that if schools want to improve their students’ attendance, then sending texts messages is a promising way to do this. These texts can either remind parents of the benefits of attendance or warn about the consequences of absence. Either way, to be most effective, they should come directly from staff members.
Although these texts can be used to improve school attendance, this system might be best used alongside other strategies to improve school achievement. For example, here is a handful of things schools can do:
Besides its importance for helping students to get the most out of their school years, learning the value of attendance is something that will help students in the future, as they step into the world of work. Research has revealed a simple and cost-effective way to improve attendance, particularly for children who are often absent.
One final thing that’s important to note is that the research was done with primary school age children. Would the same results happen at secondary school? While texts may improve attendance at secondary school too, we should remember that secondary school students are more independent. They may be absent from school without their parents knowing, so texting parents might not work as well. At secondary school age, perhaps schools could even switch to texting the students themselves? More research is needed in this area. But for now, texting parents seems a promising start.
For more tips to improve attendance in your school, read our blog “How can you reduce absenteeism”.