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New evidence review suggests sending personalised letters or texts to parents can help improve school attendance

Sending parents of students who are persistently absent personalised letters or texts can help improve attendance, according to a new evidence review published by the Education Endowment Foundation.

The report looked at the findings from 72 studies that aim to improve pupils’ school attendance and considered eight different approaches – including parental engagement, incentives and disincentives and mentoring – to identify strategies that could help boost attendance.

The review found some evidence of promise for approaches that focused on engaging with parents. In one study with a positive impact on attendance, parents were sent ​‘nudge’ letters, which outlined the importance of their child’s attendance to learning and the school community.

Similarly, the review also found positive impacts for responsive approaches, where schools aim to address the individual causes behind a pupils’ persistence absence. One example highlighted in the report is where a social worker identifies barriers to attendance and intervenes to overcome them. This could mean assigning an older ​“walking buddy” for a pupil with high absences due to transport issues.

However overall, the review found that the evidence on how to improve attendance is weak, with very few studies taking place in English schools, and was unable to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of several approaches.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said:

“We know that pupils who are persistently absent from school are less like to achieve well academically. But as today’s new evidence review shows, we know much less about the best ways to improve attendance. While the research finds some positive impacts for approaches like engaging with parents and addressing the individual needs of pupils, overall, the evidence on what works for reducing absenteeism is weak.

“Teachers deserve a much clearer picture of how best to support their pupils who are persistently absent. Our new funding round with the Youth Endowment Fund will help fill some of these evidence gaps, by identifying and evaluating promising interventions, programmes, and approaches.”