School non-attendance in Bristol (2003-2004)
Sponsor: Bristol City Council
The City of Bristol commissioned the research into the reasons for non-attendance by young people in its secondary schools and to discover their attitudes to schooling in general.
The central focus of the work was on the views of a sample of young people who had records of very poor attendance. The interviewees were invited to attend the university for an informal, semi-structured interview. Each interviewee was invited to bring a friend and the process followed what is known as "paired pal interviews." A representative sample of parents was also interviewed, along with officers from the Education Welfare Service. Finally, the views of a senior secondary school manager and school attendance officer were also reported on. Parents were interviewed in their homes and professionals in their place of work using a semi structured interview schedule.
- The young people were able to identify with clarity the processes that resulted in them becoming non-attainders.
- They make sense of their past experience - and some of them were able to comment on how those experiences will contribute to their futures, particularly the possibility of further training and employment.
- In contrast to professionals (and much of the existing literature), they do not see the content of the curriculum as a problem for them.
- They see the quality of personal relationships at school primarily in terms of relationships with staff, rather than the subjects individuals teach.
- They identify the quality of relationships with staff in terms of what they see as 'mutual respect' and being treated in an 'adult fashion'.
- They perceive teaching as an individual, rather than a group activity and see teaching as explanation rather than instruction.
- The male students reported that relationship problems were mainly with the staff of schools (as opposed to peers).
- Peer relationships are more significant for female students.
- Bullying and intimidation by other students was seen as a problem for many of those interviewed and often precedes the decision not to attend school.
- Contrary to much of the previous literature, our interviewees tended not to come from families within which there is a history of non-attendance.
- Many expressed the view that they had found alternative educational provision preferable to school.
- Transition from primary school to secondary and from Year 9 to 10 is problematic and for many, may lead to non-attendance.
In contrast with some earlier research, there was no evidence from these interviews of an anti school/education culture in the home. Parents offered the following observations:
- Home/school communication systems are poor
- School are deemed to be arrogant towards parents and students
- For some parents the Education Welfare Service is not seen as a major source of support.
- Learning mentors, Connexions personnel, alternative providers and individual Education Welfare Officers are identified as helpful.
- The content of the curriculum is not problematic and it is useful in career terms.
- Alternative provision works in getting students to reengage with learning.
- Schools need to address the problem of bullying in a more effective manner.
- Parents are eager for their children to attend and be successful in school
Secondary Senior Manager
- Local circumstances are such that employment is easy to find resulting in a view that school is not relevant.
- The nature of the curriculum and its content is inappropriate for many students
- Curriculum is too rigidly defined more local control is needed.
- Close relationships between FE and school needed for many 14+ students.
- Attendance can be improved for those students with a 60-70% record of attendance.
- Points of transition are triggers to non-attendance.
- A strategic LEA policy is needed, for instance, to stop non attenders simply transferring schools
- There is a lack of synergy between the decisions of schools, and appeals panels
- Funding alternative provision is a major resource problem for many schools because funding follows pupils.
- Positive rewards for attendance are needed such as trips to ten-pin bowling.
- Relationships are only a problem for "disaffected" students poor relationships are often used as an excuse for non-attendance.
Education Welfare Officers (EWOs)
Four Education Welfare officers were interviewed two were new to the service and two who had been in post for a period of time. There is a difference in how they see the role although there are also major points of agreement. The following were identified as significant issues.
- EWOs have a main responsibility for liaising with school and other services over issues of attendance.
- Newer EWOs perceive the title as inappropriate since their role is concerned with attendance not welfare.
- Long servers identify welfare work as important and significant
- Schools must have attendance as a priority.
- Legal justice system should be used more regularly and more effectively.
- The law needs to be tightened up on attendance (newer officers.)
- Timescale is too long in dealing with non attendance
- A range of home circumstances is significant, particularly economic and social deprivation, substance abuse and illness.
- The deterrents to non-attendance should be broadcast (newer officers)
- Prosecution has improved children's lives because they now attend school.
- There should be more surveillance
- See themselves as a 'go between' school and parents (older officers)
- Act as an advocate (older officers)
- Special Needs and the curriculum are a problem for many students.
- Alternatives are not necessarily the answer the drop out rate is quite high
- Young people need to be respected and made to feel worthwhile.
School Attendance Officer
- Substance abuse is a major problem particularly for attendance in the afternoon.
- There are families in the catchment area who do not value education have a culture of non-attendance.
- Nevertheless these families are resourceful.
- For female students peer relationships are a major problem leading to non-attendance.
- For male students relationships with staff my be problematic
- Many members of staff do not have the skills to interact with students they intimidate but realise they are in a power relationship.
- Alternative education is often a solution but it is a resource issue.
- Many young people have narrow horizons and they need to be encouraged to expand those horizons
- More non-teaching staff in schools such as learning mentors and LSAs are needed.
- Provision should address local need.