For both educators and parents, student absenteeism is an increasing concern. The problem is more than just empty seats in the classroom — chronic absences can negatively impact student performance, learning progress, social interaction, and even mental health. Learning how to deal with student absenteeism means taking a proactive approach that addresses the root causes.
Schools looking for chronic absenteeism solutions should focus on creating engaging school environments, establishing clear communication channels with parents, offering relevant and exciting curriculum choices, and supporting student mental health. Using data and analytics to monitor warning signs is also one of the most powerful solutions to absenteeism in schools.
If you’re trying to figure out how to help students with attendance problems in your school, keep reading — we’re exploring practical ideas on how to deal with chronic absenteeism here.
1. Improve school environment
A positive school environment isn’t just about the physical setting. It means ensuring a supportive and inclusive culture, having a zero-tolerance bullying policy, and providing safe and clean surroundings.
- Inclusivity: Fostering a culture of inclusivity helps students feel valued and accepted in their environment. Every student should be encouraged to contribute their unique perspective to promote diversity.
- Bullying: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 22% of students aged 12 - 18 are bullied at school. Studies show that bullied students are absent from school almost 4 times more than their non-bullied peers. When kids feel safe in their school climate, they’re more likely to attend regularly.
- Cleanliness: A clean space reduces health risks while promoting concentration. Cleaner environments make learning easier and more comfortable for students, encouraging them to be in their seats more often.
2. Establish a robust communication system with parents
Regular and open dialogue with parents is essential for dealing with chronic absenteeism. It allows schools and caretakers to identify and address the root causes of missed school days. Understanding why students might be missing school can be a springboard toward working together to find solutions. Some studies suggest that something as simple as a phone call from a teacher to a parent can promote a reduction in absences.
Additional ways to enhance parent communication include:
- Providing regular attendance reports for students identified with high absentee rates
- Having regular parent-teacher meetings to encourage deeper discussions about issues that might be affecting an absent student’s performance
- Determining whether absenteeism is related to a physical or mental health concern so parents and school staff can join forces and offer the right type of support
3. Offer engaging and relevant curriculum
According to research, when the curriculum isn’t exciting or applicable to students, it can increase absenteeism. Thus, it’s fair to assume that an engaging curriculum can significantly reduce absence rates. Connecting the classroom to real-world scenarios makes students more likely to engage in lessons and attend class.
The key to creating a relevant curriculum is making lessons feel real-world applicable. For example, math concepts taught in isolation can be less engaging than when applied to real-world situations, like budgeting or cooking. Making learning tangible and helping students find meaningful connections to what they’re learning is a proven way to help student engagement and potentially boost test scores.
Other ways to make curriculum engaging and relevant include:
- Integrating project-based student learning
- Using a hands-on approach that encourages critical thinking skills
- Promoting extracurricular activities through clubs, sports teams, or arts programs
- Providing opportunities throughout the school year for social interaction and personal development outside the regular academic routine
4. Prioritize mental and physical health
Poor mental health is a significant contributor to student absences. This can ring especially true for students dealing with anxiety or depression, according to some research, which links high absenteeism rates to mental health conditions.
Comprehensive school health programs and counseling services can ensure students receive the support they need to attend class regularly. Mental health resources can be invaluable in supporting their overall well-being. A mentally healthy student body means fewer sick days and improved student achievement.
Similarly, physical fitness also plays a critical role in students’ overall well-being. Regular exercise promotes good mental health since exercise releases endorphins that improve mood and behavior, making school a healthier learning environment overall.
Schools can address and prioritize mental and physical health by:
- Having a dedicated school nurse and counselor
- Partnering with Talkspace to provide convenient, accessible therapy for students
- Establishing dedicated mental health days for students
- Providing plenty of opportunities for physical activity in schools
5. Utilize data to monitor warning signs
Identifying patterns and warning signs is one way to approach how to deal with student absenteeism. Fortunately, we live in a modern era of technology where data and analytics can be used to detect potential signs reasonably early on. Regularly monitoring attendance rates helps educators identify trends and red flags with precision. Then, they can address issues as early as possible.
Consider addressing absenteeism by:
- Investing in software explicitly designed to track school attendance
- Using data analysis tools to monitor patterns over time and highlight sudden changes in individual behavior
- Implementing data-driven interventions, like targeted counseling services, for identified at-risk students
6. Establish clear consequences for chronic absenteeism
Finding chronic absenteeism solutions is about more than just offering support. Effective schools often craft clear, consistent, and tailored consequences. Note this doesn’t mean taking a purely punitive approach but instead finding a balance between accountability and empathy.
It’s crucial to differentiate between punishment and supportive interventions. For example, detention isn’t always the best answer for chronically absent students. Punishments can exacerbate feelings of alienation or resentment from students who may have valid reasons for being absent – such as being bullied or feeling unsafe at school. In cases like this, counseling sessions or peer mentoring programs that address the root cause might be more beneficial.
Remember that the goal isn’t to punish students to the point that they’d rather be out of school but to keep them engaged in their educational journey.
Tips for schools dealing with chronic absenteeism:
- Focus first on identifying the root causes of excessive absences.
- Offer support that addresses actual causes of chronic absenteeism rather than having a blanket punishment policy.
- Be consistent with attendance policies but address offenders on a case-by-case basis.
Show up for your students with Talkspace
Addressing student absenteeism isn't straightforward; it's a multifaceted challenge confronting today's schools. It’s often overlooked, but addressing mental health can be a powerful solution to school absenteeism.
With services like Talkspace, schools trying to figure out how to help students with attendance problems will be better equipped to offer students with mental health support. Talkspace breaks down the barriers many people face when seeking mental health assistance by connecting them to licensed, experienced therapists via messaging or video chat.
Talkspace ensures students have access to help regardless of where they’re at — and the help they receive might be vital in getting back to school on a regular, consistent basis.
- “The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, 2021. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=719.
- Alanko, Katarina, Katja Melander, Klaus Ranta, Janne Engblom, and Silja Kosola. Time trends in adolescent school absences and associated bullying involvement between 2000 and 2019: A nationwide study, 2023. https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-2651595/v1.
- Loe, Keely. “Reducing Chronic Absenteeism with Teacher/Parent Communication.” ScholarWorks, August 7, 2018. https://scholarworks.calstate.edu/concern/theses/qb98mf79d.
- Akkus, Murat, and Şakir Cinkir. “The Problem of Student Absenteeism, Its Impact on Educational Environments, and The Evaluation of Current Policies.” International Journal of Psychology and Educational Studies 9 (2022): 978–97. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1355069.pdf.
- “A ‘Tangible Dimension’: Learning by Making, Listening, and Tasting.” Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning. Accessed October 11, 2023. https://vpal.harvard.edu/engagingsenses.
- Gase, Lauren N., Tony Kuo, Karen Coller, Lourdes R. Guerrero, and Mitchell D. Wong. “Assessing the Connection between Health and Education: Identifying Potential Leverage Points for Public Health to Improve School Attendance.” American Journal of Public Health 104, no. 9 (2014). https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2014.301977.
- Lawrence, David, Vaille Dawson, Stephen Houghton, Ben Goodsell, and Michael G Sawyer. “Impact of Mental Disorders on Attendance at School.” Australian Journal of Education 63, no. 1 (2019): 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004944118823576.