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Attendance leads to achievement

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If children don’t go to school regularly, their academic careers and futures look shakey, it’s one of those simple but profound realisations that can lead to better outcomes for students if policy is framed in the right way.

Rather than penalise those who regularly skip school the behaviour should be seen as an indication to step in and help says The Smith Family report – Attendance lifts achievement: Building the evidence base to improve student outcomes.

School attendance and achievement are closely related and form a vicious circle, the lower the attendance the lower the achievement which leads to more non-attendance. The kid falls hopelessly behind and eventually leaves school altogether.

On average, a low achievement grade in English predicts low or decreasing school attendance in the years following. Similarly, lower attendance rates predict lower achievement grades in English in later years.

Being able to identify students at greater risk of declining attendance or poor achievement means we can provide them with targeted, timely additional support to help prevent a downward spiral.

A strong relationship between school attendance, including in the early years of high school, and Year 12 completion, has been established. Three in four students with high attendance rates in Year 7 went on to complete Year 12, compared to less than half of those with low attendance rates.  

A strong relationship has been established between achievement in English in Year 9 and school completion. Students who achieved a satisfactory of better grade in English in Year 9, were much more likely to complete Year 12 than those whose achievement was below satisfactory.

If we act on early indicators, additional support can result in improvements in attendance and achievement. This then increases the likelihood of students completing school and being in work or study post-school.

The analyses in the Smith Family report were only possible because each student involved in the Smith Family’s Learning for Life program has a unique student identifier (USI) which enables the linking of multiple student data over time.

This research reinforces the value of a national USI for all Australian students, as it is core to understanding the impact of schooling over time on student outcomes and to providing nuanced and timely support to diverse groups of students.

Analysis indicates that low attendance (and low achievement) is recoverable and that early identification provides a real opportunity for targeted additional support to bring students back on track.

Students with very low attendance rates in Year 7 who improved their attendance by Year 9, were much more likely to complete Year 12, compared to those whose attendance remained very low. Attendance and achievement during high school predicts Year 12 completion and also predicts post-school outcomes.

Students with high achievement grades are more likely to be fully engaged in paid work and/or study post school. Similarly, a positive relationship between post-school engagement in work and/or study and high levels of school attendance has been identified.

The risk of not being in work or study post-school was found to be twice as high for students with low attendance rates during high school, compared to those with high attendance rates. A focus on ensuring strong school attendance across all years of school can therefore contribute to both school completion and post-school engagement in work or study.

Anne Hampshire, Head of Research and Advocacy at The Smith Family says “Thousands of young Australians are not achieving educationally. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly at risk of poor educational outcomes. We want to be able to identify as early as possible those young people who need extra support.”


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