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Family Engagement and School Attendance

Corridor pic PE. Tony Dalton 14Jul24 (1)

Family Engagement and School Attendance



In this article, I have used the title “School Attendance” as an overarching theme to address the conversation. I deliberately avoided the term “school refusal,” which I believe inaccurately describes the experiences of some parents and children. In many cases, the child is simply unable to attend school rather than outright refusing to go. Therefore, I have chosen to use the terms “school reluctance” or “school can’t” wherever possible.

I am fortunate that in my daily work I am able to visit and work with schools to support them to engage families in their children’s learning. I work mostly with families, teachers and school leaders, and very occasionally students. 

“Family Engagement refers to a collaborative and ongoing partnership between schools and families, where both parties actively contribute to the educational journey of the student. This definition acknowledges the shared responsibility for student success and recognises the diverse strengths that families bring to the learning process.” 

Family Engagement is frequently misinterpreted in numerous schools leading to a failure to harness its potential for enhancing children’s learning, fostering a robust sense of school and community belonging, and promoting social cohesion. This misconception largely stems from its conflation with family involvement. However, these are different concepts. Family involvement means participating in school activities, while Family Engagement is about actively collaborating in the learning process. Both are crucial for the success of children, families, and schools. 

Belonging or a lack of connectedness 

Not feeling a sense of belonging or experiencing a lack of connectedness is common. Have you ever had the urge to skip school? Whether you were a student, a parent, or a teacher? It’s a feeling many can relate to. Parents often express hesitancy about going to their child’s school, and teachers sometimes share the same reluctance to attend.I’ve encountered students who go to great lengths to avoid school, and I’ve felt that way myself. Not wanting to attend school usually indicates a deeper issue. There are various factors 

contributing to it, but they often stem from one core problem: feeling disconnected or feeling like you don’t belong. 

Belonging is a fundamental human need. People search for a sense of connection with the people and places in their lives. Students spend a huge portion of their time during childhood and adolescence at school, which makes it essential that the learning environment cultivates a sense of belonging for students and their families. 

It is hard to believe that a lack of connectedness and belonging is not at the centre of the student reluctance and refusal and equally to not understand that is a key to the prevention and remediation as well.Belonging is relational. A positive relationship with the school community can shape a student’s emotional, behavioural, and cognitive engagement with schooling and influence academic outcomes. 

A Partnership of Collaboration for Learning 

To effectively address attendance and other learning matters,schools, teachers, and families need to work together, building strong relationships and maintaining two way communication. By combining the knowledge and insights of both parents and teachers, they can create strategies to encourage regular attendance and tackle underlying problems. The best results come from a robust partnership between families and schools; anything less can be detrimental. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland advises, “Begin at the beginning.” – Positive relationships between families and schools are essential from the outset, even before a child starts school. This collaboration ensures the best learning and wellbeing outcomes for children. 

Early Intervention and Support 

School refusal and reluctance to attend are tough challenges for everyone involved—children, families, teachers, and schools. We all worry about how to help the child. Early signs can show up as soon as the child starts school, or even earlier in kindergarten or childcare. These signs might not turn into refusal 

until later primary school years. Signs like reluctance to attend, school distress, morning challenges, tardiness, frequent visits to the sick bay during class and recesses,skipping classes, and long absences can be missed if seen separately. But when you look at them together, they form a pattern—a warning signal.The bringing together of all these early signs relies heavily on great “two way family school communication”.Without it we are unable to identify a pattern that prompts us to action. 

Building Relationships from the Start 

For Families: 

Initiate Connections: Meet the principal and your child’s teacher early on. 

Understand Roles: Learn who supports children and families, especially meet and get to know the student wellbeing leader. 

Engage in Chats: Have brief conversations with your child’s teacher when possible. Be Present: Regularly be at school before and after if your schedule allows. 

Utilise School Apps: Sign up for apps that provide classroom insights and enable two-way communication. 

Visit the Classroom: Familiarise yourself with your child’s learning environment.

Address Concerns Promptly: Raise questions or issues as they arise, not just at parent-teacher interviews. 

Parents’ attitudes can strongly influence a child’s views on school attendance. When families are involved in their child’s education— hearing reading,talking about learning, monitoring attendance, and participating in school activities—students are more likely to be engaged and do well in school. On the other hand, a lack of parental engagement can lead to poor attendance. If parents don’t value education or aren’t involved, children may adopt the same attitudes, especially in early childhood, when attendance patterns reflect parental behaviours and family stability more than the child’s own choices. 

For Schools and Teachers: 

Get to Know Families: Use start-of-year meetings to build relationships, not to just introduce yourself. 

Transform Events: Make “Meet the Teacher” events into “Meet the Family” occasions to welcome families. Use other school events to connect with parents and showcase their children’s learning. Leverage Technology: Use school apps to communicate with families and encourage two-way communication. Ensure families know the school is approachable for any concerns. Highlight Support: In “Welcome to School” and induction programs, explain support options and communication protocols. 

Engage Informally: Interact with families before and after school and at social events to build rapport. 

Promptly Address Issues: Address learning and well being concerns early. 

Track Attendance: Regularly monitor attendance using data applications and act on early signs Building a Supportive Home Environment 

Encouraging Open Communication: 

Create a Safe Space: Ensure children feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear. Active Listening: Show genuine interest and listen actively to your child’s experiences. Regular Check-Ins: Regularly discuss your child’s school day and any concerns they might have. 

Creating Routines that Prioritise School Attendance: 

Consistent Schedule: Establish daily routines for waking up, meals, homework, and bedtime. Morning Preparation: Prepare for school the night before to reduce morning stress. 

Providing Emotional Support and Understanding: 

Empathy and Validation: Acknowledge and discuss your child’s feelings about school.

Problem-Solving Together: Work with your child to identify and solve school-related issues. Stress Management: Teach stress management techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or physical activities. 

Professional Support: Seek help from school counsellors, psychologists, or other professionals if needed.

In my work supporting schools to engage families, I emphasise the importance of understanding Family Engagement versus mere involvement. Family Engagement fosters a collaborative partnership between schools and families, acknowledging their shared responsibility for student success. Feeling a sense of belonging is crucial for students’ well-being and academic outcomes, and addressing issues like school refusal requires early intervention and strong collaboration between schools and families. Building relationships from the start and creating a supportive home environment are key. Both parents and schools play vital roles in ensuring regular school attendance and addressing underlying concerns for the benefit of the child’s education and overall development. 

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