Reid 2003 Traffic Lights Strategy

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<p>Educational Review, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2003</p> <p>Strategic Approaches to Tackling School Absenteeism and Truancy: the trafc lights (TL) schemeKEN REID, Swansea Institute of Higher Education, Swansea, UK</p> <p>ABSTRACT</p> <p>Some secondary schools have experienced signicant problems related to pupils attendance over a considerable period of time. Therefore, it has proved necessary to start to develop and implement innovative long-term strategic approaches to tackling truancy and other forms of non-attendance from school. This article focuses upon the trafc lights (TL) scheme which has been formulated to monitor and manage pupils attendance within schools in a more controlled manner. The conventional approach to introducing the TL scheme is described. This is followed by two variations of the scheme adapted by schools for their own purposes. Evidence from each of the three utilisations of the TL scheme has suggested that overall attendance within the schools has been signicantly improved with gains of around 8% reported. Finally, the article illustrates how the TL scheme can be adapted to help reduce potential cases of exclusion. Background Evidence from research indicates that some schools have disproportionately high levels of truancy and other forms of absenteeism (Reid, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1999, 2000; OKeefe et al., 1993). Some schools have experienced these problems consistently over a 30-year period despite all their best endeavours (Reid, 2002a, chapter 2). Therefore, it has become apparent that in order to combat truancy and absenteeism within some schools, it is rst necessary to change pupils, parents and teachers attitudes towards these schools as well as the pervading culture and ethos. The Scottish Council for Research in Education Study (SCRE, 1995) manifestly showed the clearest possible link between attendance and performance at every phase of schooling from the infant and primary stages to the later years of secondary education. Most recent research on truancy and absenteeism from school has focused upon individual facets of the problems and upon the associated consequences of the behaviour. Osler et al. (2002) for example, have suggested that truancy is a form of self-exclusion on the part of girls. Truancy and/or school absenteeism has been found to be closely linked with deprivation (Zhang, 2003), a number of childhood pathologies (Woodward &amp; Fergusson, 2000) including running away (de Man, 2000), disaffection and young offending (Ball &amp; Connolly, 2000), alcoholism (Wichstrom, 1998; Miller &amp; Plant, 1999), disturbed adolescent development (Baer,</p> <p>ISSN 00131911 print; 14653397 online/03/030305-17 2003 Educational Review DOI:10.1080/0013191032000118956</p> <p>306</p> <p>K. Reid</p> <p>1999), parenting styles (McNeal, 1999), pre-court sentencing information (Ball &amp; Connolly, 1999), gang membership (Fritsch et al., 1999), drug usage (Lloyd, 1998), early conduct disorders (Fergusson &amp; Horwood, 1998), exclusion from school (Bratby, 1998; Audit Commission, 1998) health factors (Michaud et al., 1998), pupils personalities (Jones &amp; Francis, 1995) and attitudes (Lewis, 1995), behaviour and levels of self-esteem and academic self-concept as well as attitudes towards parents and teachers (Reid, 1999). Although there is a comparative absence of articles focusing upon good practice in dealing with individual pupils case histories of absenteeism and in promoting whole-school approaches to combating truancy and absenteeism (OFSTED, 2001; Reid, 2002a), some new studies are beginning to emerge. For example, Orr-Munro (2002) has reported on the Safer Schools Partnership plans to station police ofcers in schools. This is in response to the nding that truants from schools are at the epicentre of day-time street crime. Whilst police see the scheme as vital, teachers are more cautious. In another project, school-based family social work schemes helped to halve rates of truancy in project schools (Pritchard &amp; Williams, 2001). Malcolm (1996), Blyth (1999) and McCormack (1999) all make valuable suggestions for staff in schools on how to improve attendance utilising such ideas as role play and drama workshops. However, implementing long-term strategic approaches to combat poor attendance is a relatively new idea. There is little, if any, previous research having been undertaken into these schemes (Reid, 2002a). Nevertheless, there is some evidence for their potential (Reynolds, 1996). In fact, the potential of these schemes is almost as important for stressing the possibility of promoting positive school change, and providing an appropriate monitoring structure for tackling the issues, as anything else. The real intention should be to use the conceptual base and processes involved in the procedure to attempt to reduce rates of truancy and absenteeism within schools and/or Local Education Authorities (LEAs). The evidence contained in this article is especially important for those headteachers and teachers, education welfare ofcers, education social workers, learning mentors, classroom assistants and personal advisers who operate in schools or LEAs with a history of serious, long-term attendance problems. It is currently surprising to nd how many schools and LEAs have attendance issues as one of, or the most important criticism, of their recent OFSTED inspections. Consequently, this aspect often becomes the rst or second item on their subsequent action plans. In practice, a considerable number of schools and LEAs have very little idea about how to overcome their major attendance difculties. Despite this, there is abundant evidence of more good practice taking place within LEAs and schools than ever before. Most LEAs promote their own policy documents on attendance, of which Blackpool (2002), Birmingham (2002) and Staffordshire (2002) are three good examples. Equally, the vast majority of schools now have policies on school attendance although many of these are decient in some aspects such as including appropriate reintegration and return to school strategies (Reid, 2002a). Also, there is often little synergy between LEA guidelines and those of local schools (Reid, 2003b). In fact, typically within LEAs, most schools have their own freestanding documents which are entirely different from one another. New initiatives concerned with tackling truancy and school absenteeism have proliferated in recent years. Currently, in England, these initiatives include attendance aspects in such major developments as the Connexions Service, Education</p> <p>Tackling School Absenteeism and Truancy</p> <p>307</p> <p>Action Zones, Excellence in Cities, On Track, Pupil Support Grants, Childrens Fund, Sure Start, changes in court procedures and nes, electronic registration schemes, truancy buster awards, cross-Whitehall groups to combat the link between truancy and crime, truancy sweeps as well as a host of youth participation and community projects and local shopping centre schemes as well as selected LEAs receiving specialist payments in order to improve attendance and behaviour within schools in their area (Reid, 2002a). In addition, there is currently much pioneer work taking place within the 1419 curriculum as attempts are made to nd relevant and alternative curriculum schemes. For example, the Mountain Ash Out-of-School Learning Project is one example of how successful alternative curriculum projects can raise pupils, parents and the local communities perceptions of schooling as well as promote good attendance and behaviour amongst a group of less able, deprived and disaffected pupils (Reid, 2002b, 2002c, 2002d). Unfortunately, much of the good local practice which exists is uncoordinated and there is also very little evidence of good practice in schools in the existing literature (OKeefe et al., 1993; Reid, 2003a). While any number of appropriate short-term strategies are in place, it is clear that most of these, with the possible exception of rst day response schemes, are making very little difference to overall local and national rates of daily attendance within schools. In fact, some LEAs are privately reporting recent rises in their own levels of non-attendance possibly because of the longer term effects of the national curriculum (Shefeld, 2001). England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all started to follow their own separate paths in the search for solutions on truancy and school absenteeism as the effects of asymmetric devolution begin to bite. In England, for example, fast-track punishment schemes for parents of truants are being trialled. In Northern Ireland processes are in place to signicantly increase the number of education welfare ofcers involved in attendance cases. In Scotland, electronic registration schemes are in much wider usage. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly established a Task Force to produce a Report on reducing truancy and absenteeism in both the short- and long-term (Welsh Assembly, 2002, 2003). Its key short-term recommendations are: (a) to simplify the Welsh Assembly Governments guidance on clarifying absence as indicated in Circular 3/99; (b) to establish how many primary schools have readily available gures on attendance rates; (c) to commence an audit of the methods of passing information between primary and secondary schools on individual pupils attendance; (d) to undertake an audit and evaluation of LEAs spending on attendance issues, particularly the destination of GEST funding and the pilot projects for tackling disaffection; (e) to undertake an audit of schools and LEAs attendance policies, how up-to-date these are and how well they link together; (f) to consider the approaches to be used in pursuing legal action on parental-condoned cases; (g) to perform truancy sweeps on a regular basis in each LEA. The main long-term recommendations are:</p> <p>308</p> <p>K. Reid</p> <p>(a) to review and cost the extent of electronic registration schemes throughout Wales and to develop a strategy for extending its use to an appropriate standard; (b) to review the funding, role and responsibilities of the education welfare service in Wales to include professional development; (c) to clarify and simplify the funding streams used to tackle truancy in Wales; (d) to establish systems to share good and innovative practice between professions on tackling truancy in Wales; (e) to carry out a pilot study on reducing absence in two schools to assess the extent to which this is possible thereby informing future funding; (f) to increase the level of intervention at primary school level; (g) to develop a framework for multi-agency working, including the necessary training elements; (h) to review the process of taking attendance cases through magistrates courts, including the link between magistrates clerks and the educational welfare service as well as the timetable for hearing attendance cases. The purpose of this article therefore, is to provide a whole-school, long-term strategic approach to improving attendance within schools. Ideally, the trafc lights (TL) scheme should be compared and contrasted with the Secondary School Three Group (SSTG) and Primary Secondary Colour Coded (PSCC) formats (Reid, 2003c, 2003d) as staff and LEAs may prefer implementing one to the other. Whereas the SSTG and PSCC schemes are closely linked to attainment, the TL scheme is exclusively an attendance strategy although it can be adapted to monitor behavioural and exclusion policies as well (see later). Methodology The methodology followed within schools is action-orientated towards nding appropriate school-based solutions utilising a number of key principles, the TL structure and local circumstances. Thus far, the scheme has been implemented into selected schools using the expertise of the author and staff within the schools along an in-service paradigm. The specic TL concept has to date not formed part of a funded research project. Rather, it has evolved as a pragmatic response to specic school-based situations in which truancy and absenteeism are signicant, and, often, disproportionate problems. The methodological approach involved in implementing the school-based solutions has been continuously modied in the light of ongoing practice. Therefore, how the scheme is set up is key to the process. Normally, in order to resolve attendance issues within a school, a special professional development day is held. During this period the schools specic attendance issues are discussed and examined in detail. Normally, various possible shortand long-term solutions are put forward. The TL scheme is one of these potential long-term strategic solutions. It involves implementing school-change processes. This is achieved by controlling and managing differently some of the input (pupil and pupils attendance) variables and by changing some of the internal school policies and managerial practice on attendance and/or performance-related issues. Essentially, this pragmatic methodology, partially based on social anthropological and action research theory and practice, has been brought about by school staff, especially headteachers and senior managers, being put into situations where they have been required to nd their own solutions to externally-imposed governmental</p> <p>Tackling School Absenteeism and Truancy</p> <p>309</p> <p>FIG.1. The 5 year cycle using the TL scheme.</p> <p>targets on attendance; the latter having been raised from 90% to 92% for secondary schools in September 2002. The adoption of the strategy is often in response to schools fearing difcult OFSTED inspections on attendance or as a consequence of being put into special measures. The evidence suggests that a large number of schools put into special measures because of attendance issues have very little idea how to resolve their difculties (Reid, 2003a) and some have had long periods20 plus yearsof experiencing similar problems (Reid, 2002b). Rates of overall attendance and unauthorised absence show considerable variation in league tables both at school and LEA levels. In secondary schools with serious attendance problems, it is methodologically better to introduce the scheme in Year 7 only in the rst year of implementation. In the second year, the scheme can be extended to Years 7 and 8. After 5 years, the scheme will involve Years 711 and all the pupils will have their attendance monitored and managed in the same way (see Figure 1). It is good practice to ensure that all pupils and parents are made aware of the schools policy and practice on monitoring attendance and the follow-up procedures which will be used when pupils and their parents fail to adhere to the basic standards which are required.</p> <p>310 The TL Scheme: the conventional approach</p> <p>K. Reid</p> <p>The title trafc lights (TL) is given to this scheme because categories of absentees by level are colour coded by schools for monitoring and enhancement purposes. Figure 2 presents its typical usage although attendance rates within these bands can vary depending upon individual school situati...</p>