September is Attendance Awareness Month in the United States – a nationwide campaign recognising the connection between school attendance and academic achievement. It aims to get schools and communities to promote the value of good school attendance and to take action to reduce chronic absenteeism among schoolchildren before it leads to long-term problems.
In the States, as many as one in 10 children are described as “chronically absent”, meaning they miss 10 percent or more of school days. That adds up to almost a month. Campaigners say that chronic absence is a leading early warning indicator of academic trouble and later dropout.
The message is clear: Going to school every day matters for success in school and life.
What are some of the reasons for poor attendance?
Students miss school for a wide range of reasons, but a study by the Johns Hopkins University pinpointed three broad categories:
• Circumstances or obligations – illness is the first and foremost reason for non-attendance, including chronic conditions such as asthma. Housing instability, family obligations, such as care giving, and being compelled or lured into illegal activities are other contributing factors.
• Actively avoiding events or interactions in or around school – students may stay away from school to avoid harassment and bullying in, or on the way to or from, school. Real or perceived embarrassment, such as having to read aloud in class, and the uncertainty of new environments are other causes for avoiding lessons. Unreliable transport and fear of the consequences of arriving late may also be reasons.
• The final category is children who could go to school, but choose not to attend. They or their guardians may not place value on education or they may simply have something else they would rather be doing, such as sleeping in or hanging out with friends. This type of absenteeism spikes in senior years.
Tackling poor attendance
Parents are key to improving education attendance rates because they are ultimately responsible for making sure their children get to school every day.
Monitor your child’s attendance and recognise that sporadic absences add up. Students can still fall behind if they miss just a day or two every few weeks. Your child’s absence is also disruptive for the rest of the class.
What can parents do?
Learn to watch for signs of absenteeism and set a few simple rules to help ensure your child misses as little school time as possible:
• Set regular bedtime and morning routines
• Lay out clothes and pack school bags the night before
• Help transitions to new schools by introducing your child to teachers and new classmates before school starts
• Don’t let your child stay home unless they are truly unwell. Complaints of stomach or headaches can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to stay home
• If your child seems anxious about going to school, talk to teachers, school counsellors or other parents for advice on how to make them feel comfortable and excited about learning
• Have a backup plan for getting to school if something comes up. Call on a family member, neighbour or friend
• Avoid medical appointments and extended trips during school time
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