Tōtaranui Kāhui Ako teaming up on attendance and engagement

Issue: Volume 102, Number 16

Posted: 7 December 2023
Reference #: 1HAeLy

For the students and staff attending the seven schools that make up the Tōtaranui Kāhui Ako in Canterbury, one specific whakataukī guides their day-to-day activities, specifically the work done to promote school attendance.
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari kē he toa takitini. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to enable an individual’s success.

From a primary school with a roll of just under 150 students to an intermediate school with more than 400 students, this Tōtaranui Community of Learning is diverse.

 Casebrook Intermediate School's Tom Straker and Sharon Keen.

Casebrook Intermediate School's Tom Straker and Sharon Keen.

Students attend from homes in northwest Christchurch, and come from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Including Casebrook Intermediate School, Bishopdale School, Cotswold Mātāhae School, Papanui High School, Redwood Primary School and Te Kura o Matarangi Northcote School, the Tōtaranui kāhui ako was formed in 2017.

As part of the Community of Learning initiative, the schools work together to help their students achieve their full potential. A specific focus of the programme this year was working to increase the attendance of their at-risk students.

“When the Ministry started to talk about attendance, we decided we should utilise the kāhui ako community, thinking it would be a great tool for addressing this with resources right at the centre,” says Casebrook Intermediate School principal Sharon Keen.

“If we worked together across schools, we thought the effort put in at the primary school level would encourage young people to change their habits for a positive outcome when they attend intermediate and secondary schooling.”

A phased approach

The kāhui ako applied for support through the Regional Response Fund to put towards their Huringa attendance programme. The schools chose target groups in the primary and intermediate schools.

Sharon says they created a phased approach, targeting the different people involved in the at-risk students’ lives – identified as a small group of Year 7 students attending between 75 and 90 percent of the time.

Phase one began in term 1, with students in the target group receiving a complete wrap-around system. Phase two continued into term 2, in which students were still monitored daily but the incentives are reduced. Phase three finishes off in terms 3 and 4, with students still monitored lightly but are only contacted if negative attendance patterns start to emerge again.

Sharon says phase one is the most important.

During phase one, schools met and chatted with their students in a supportive way, discussing attendance expectations while working to see if there were any clear reasons for their lack of attendance so far.

“We were there to say, ‘Hey, we want to help you.’ It wasn’t punitive at all, it was positive,” says Sharon. Some schools provided incentives to encourage attendance.

Next, schools sent out clear messaging for students’ whānau in the form of take-home sheets and organised face-to-face or phone conversations.

“We explained how we were there to work with the family, that we really wanted their young person to be at school and explained what we could do to help. We followed that up by sending home hard copies of visual calendars so they could see, on paper, what the attendance patterns of their children had been,” says Sharon.

The kāhui ako hopes that positive changes at primary school will flow into intermediate and secondary school.

The kāhui ako hopes that positive changes at primary school will flow into intermediate and secondary school.

Everyone plays a role

Staff also have an important role to play in the programme. They are the first port of call in the relationship between a student and the school. Teachers were given attendance level sheets, so they knew who to look out for each week in terms of engagement.

Lastly, a youth worker attended each school for three to five hours a week. The youth worker had discretionary funding which they could use for attendance incentives or to pay for student lunches.

“We tried to wrap around our target groups as much as we could during phase one. For example, if they weren’t at school there was always a phone call in the morning asking why and if we could help,” says Sharon.

Halfway through each term, and at the end of each term, the schools came together to share data.

“We talk about what initiatives schools have used, and what they think might have worked.”

It is important that there is no set system applied across the schools. Instead, Sharon says, there is a lot of wriggle room for the individual schools to apply the programme in a way that is best for them.

For example, Casebrook established a peer support system where Year 8 student leaders support the Year 7s in the target groups.

There is no ‘one size fits all’, rather, the programme’s strength comes from the schools’ diversity.

Long-term plan

Sharon says they are unsure yet about how successful the programme has been, with data only collated across the kāhui ako at the end of each term.

She explains it will be a long-term game of collecting data to address attendance issues which can stem from long-term issues.

The individual data collection of attendance allows the schools to better identify any underlying issues.

Sharon believes communication with a student’s entire community is key. “Even if our data doesn’t improve, I think we have far more communication going on and if you keep going and keep the expectations for long enough, then you change behaviour.” 

An example of attendance information shared with whānau at Casebrook Intermediate.

An example of attendance information shared with whānau at Casebrook Intermediate.

Latest report shows illness continues to impact attendance

Refreshed term 2 2023 attendance reports released on
9 November show short-term illness and medical reasons continue to impact regular attendance, which was
47 percent – up 7.2 percent on term 2 2022. However, despite three consecutive terms of increases in regular attendance, the result is lower than term 1 2023
(59.5 percent). This drop is not unexpected, given winter illness and Covid cases remain in the community.

An initial analysis by the Ministry of Education of data spanning from 2011 to 2023 suggests that term 2 2022 (39.8 percent) was the lowest point in attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic, and attendance is now recovering. However, rapid gains are needed if we are to reach the target of 70 percent of students meeting regular attendance by term 2 2024.

The attendance reports underwent a refresh this term, prompted by the introduction of three new attendance indicators as part of the Attendance and Engagement Strategy. Term reports are now divided into three distinct reports:

  1. Regular Attendance
  2. Reasons for Absence
  3. Schools’ Response to Absence. 

You can find the attendance indicator reports at educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/attendance(external link).

Additional information and a school user guide are at education.govt.nz/our-work(external link).

A year of innovative mahi

Schools across the motu ran a variety of creative and innovative ways to engage and encourage presence, participation, and progress in 2023.

Key themes included tracking attendance and following up with students and whānau in non-judgemental or punitive ways, instead offering support and understanding.

Some schools helped their students engage with their education in new ways, such as offering programmes that provided a step-up into apprenticeships and other long-term work. For example, Central Otago’s COYEP programme provided NCEA Level 1 combined with on-the-job experience.

Other schools strengthened attendance by incorporating a te ao Māori approach such as Hillcrest High School which took its female Māori students on a camp expedition by the Waikato River, where they found community in their culture and connection to the river.

The diverse range of attendance-encouraging programmes reflects the diverse communities of New Zealand. As schools look towards 2024, they can be inspired to connect deeper with their community as success is found in working together.

Read the full series at gazette.education.govt.nz(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 7:57 am, 7 December 2023

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