Improving student attendance starts with a sense of belonging – expert

Improving student attendance starts with a sense of belonging – expert

While student disengagement has been a persistent serious challenge for schools, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue.

Of the educators surveyed during a recent webinar by The Student Wellbeing Hub, 83% indicated they have significantly more concerns regarding school attendance than they did before the pandemic.

Read more: 8 reasons students hate school – and how you can motivate them

The reasons for students to become absent from school are many and varied, but research from Associate Professor Trude Havik from the University of Stavanger in Norway and Assistant Professor Jo Magne Ingul from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health shows they can be broken down into four main categories.

The first is School exclusion (school-enforced punishments such as suspensions and expulsions); the second is school withdrawal (predominantly related to parent/carer factors); thirdly is school refusal (a result of emotional difficulties such as anxiety and depression); and lastly, truancy (unexcused school non-attendance where students choose not to attend, with their parents/carers often unaware).

One of the speakers in The Student Wellbeing Hub’s webinar was community psychologist Dr Lyn O'Grady, who has over 30 years’ experience working to improve mental health and wellbeing for children, young people and their parents.

“While student disengagement is complex and varies from student to student, there is sufficient evidence now to support the view that relationships and school belonging are key factors,” Dr O’Grady told The Educator.

“Students who feel like they are part of the school community, have relationships with teachers and peers which are strong and supportive and feel like they matter to the people at their school are much more likely to be engaged in school.”

Dr O’Grady said this then follows on that those students are going to be noticed when absent and feel like people will miss them.

“They are more likely to be able to ask for help with learning or social problems at school if they believe that teachers care about them,” she said.

“If they feel like they fit in with their peers they will want to be at school and not miss out on anything. If there are family problems, these are more likely to be noticed and families supported if the family also feels like they belong to the school community.”