Chronic absenteeism: how schools can use tech to support students

Chronic absenteeism: how schools can use tech to support students

Chronic absenteeism – missing 10% or more of the school year – is on the rise. In the UK alone, 21.2% of students were chronically absent in the academic year of 2022-2023, a big jump from pre-pandemic levels, when around 11% of pupils were repeatedly...

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Chronic absenteeism – missing 10% or more of the school year – is on the rise. In the UK alone, 21.2% of students were chronically absent in the academic year of 2022-2023, a big jump from pre-pandemic levels, when around 11% of pupils were repeatedly absent.

This jump is hardly surprising, given recent spikes in reports of anxiety and depression among students. Young people have had a turbulent education experience, having to quickly adapt to remote learning during the pandemic, and deal with the severe social, political, and environmental realities of the world in the last few years.

But chronic absenteeism can have a big impact – research shows that it can reduce students’ academic performance, put them at a higher risk of dropout and be more likely to have behavioural issues. So, it’s important to address this problem as quickly as possible.

How technology can address chronic absenteeism

Technology may seem like a surprising solution, but digital devices and platforms can help connect students to school, as well as provide mental health support. Let’s take a look:

1. Draft an action plan with parents

An action plan is a strategy to reduce chronic absenteeism and is typically made with the student and parents/family.

An action plan can be implemented at any time but is most useful at the early signs of absenteeism – for example, if the student is starting to develop a pattern of missing school.

Any action plan needs to have clear goals, such as to increase the student’s attendance from 75% to 90% before the end of the semester. These goals ensure that you can pick the right structure and tools for the plan, the student, and their circumstances, and set them up for a higher chance of returning to school regularly.

Using data dashboards like MyAttendanceTracker, Vevox or TopHat allows you to track the student’s attendance, the number of interventions that were required, and any important additional information. This data will allow you to evaluate the efficacy of your plan and make adjustments if you’re not achieving your goals.

2. Use communication tools to speak with students and families

Perhaps the biggest advantage of technology to combat chronic absenteeism is to use it to communicate with students and their families.

With technology like email, text and instant messaging, teachers can keep in touch with students when they’re at school and when they’re not able to come in. This regular line of communication means that students have ongoing conversations with teachers, so they feel like they’re still included in what’s happening at school.

The same is true for teachers and the parents/family of the absent student – both can message one another, explaining any developments in the students’ attendance or studies.

Using Google Docs enables teachers to share classroom activities and homework with the student when they’re away. These interactive documents can provide links to useful materials for the students and function a collaborative place for the student and teacher to work on tasks together, at the same or different times. Here, teachers can also leave feedback on students’ work, making suggestions through the editing function and leaving comments with detailed explanations. Google Docs therefore acts like a virtual space for teachers to give absent students the resources and attention they need.

Elsewhere, video conferencing tech like Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams lets absent students join calls with teachers and other students to work remotely on group projects. They can share ideas, post any documents or materials they have in the chat, and present their work via screen sharing. With this technology, students who feel too anxious to attend school in person can still continue learning.

3. Introduce hybrid and flipped classrooms

Hybrid and flipped classrooms are models that use technology to make learning environments more flexible.

Hybrid classrooms are when teachers mix in-person classes with online instruction, so students can participate physically and virtually. Technology like Zoom, Google Meet, and Blackboard allow real-time interaction between teachers and students, as well as digital places to upload assignments and provide feedback. This flexibility is necessary for students who miss school because of health issues or family responsibilities. They can continue their education without falling behind and can still feel included in classroom events.

For flipped classrooms, students learn about topics at home via technology like YouTube and Google Classroom. Students then do hands-on activities and have discussions about the work in the classroom. This model lets children learn at their own pace, and makes in-person classes more collaborative, which can motivate students with high levels of absenteeism to join classes more often.

4. Offer mental health support solutions

Mental health support is vital for students’ overall wellbeing, and it ensures that they stay present in their education. Studies show that students who receive school-based care for mental health concerns have improved attendance afterwards.

School-based mental health care can include counsellors, psychologists, social work, occupational therapy, and more. In particular, school counsellors are mental health care professionals who frequently meet and work with students, help them develop emotional regulation, practices to overcome stress and anxiety, and provide a safe space to talk about their feelings.

For absent students, the familiarity and trust associated with a school counsellor can be a big pull to return to school, especially as there is a link between school absenteeism and mental health disorders. In the process of encouraging a student to return to school, school counsellors can initially meet with them virtually, and gradually ask them to come to the school for in-person discussions that can benefit their mental health and school attendance.

5. Create a school-wide chronic absenteeism policy

Everyone in your school should be aligned on chronic absenteeism. Educators should make a document explaining what steps can be taken in the event of chronic absenteeism – teachers and other staff can then refer to this when they need.

The policy should include resources defining what exactly chronic absenteeism is and how to identify it in early stages. The faster teachers can spot chronic absenteeism, the more effectively they can overcome it.

The document should also contain a list of tools that could be useful for teachers in the management of chronic absenteeism. For example, communication platforms, attendance-tracking databases, and content with guidance from education experts can all equip teachers to stop chronic absenteeism.

It’s important that this document is regularly updated based on teachers’ feedback around what strategies successfully reduced absenteeism, and what wasn’t as impactful as hoped. Teachers can also recommend tech tools they discovered and applied in the process.

From communication to action plans, hybrid and flipped classrooms to mental health support, technology enables teachers to include absent students in education, ready to return to the classroom in person when they are able.

Further reading

Discover more ways to support student wellbeing: Read How to support students with anxiety, Should schools avoid screentime for kids?, and How to teach your students emotional regulation.

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