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What works to support attendance? An Appreciative Inquiry into the school-related factors which help pupils experiencing Persistent School Non-Attendance to attend secondary school

14 January 2021

Author: Jaime Kristina Smith (University of Bristol)

Attending school plays an important role in children and young people’s emotional, social and academic development (Pellegrini, 2007) and frequent non-attendance has been associated with a range of adverse outcomes (Kearney, 2016).

Much of the existing literature focuses on ‘the problem’ of non-attendance but there is currently little known about existing strengths within school systems to support the attendance of pupils experiencing Persistent School Non-Attendance (PSNA).

This thesis contributes to a clearer understanding of school-related factors that help pupils to attend secondary school.

It presents findings from a qualitative research study which adopted an Appreciative Inquiry approach to explore the perceptions of seven secondary school-aged pupils experiencing PSNA regarding the factors considered to be working well to support their attendance, and their views relating to the changes they felt could be made to further enhance attendance in school.

The Drawing an Ideal School task (Williams & Hanke, 2007) and scaling activities were used alongside semi-structured interviews to elicit participants’ views.

Thematic Analysis indicated that the factors perceived to support attendance were centred around positive relationships and positive learning experiences in school.

Changes which pupils felt could be made involved those which increased feelings of comfort in school and those which enhanced positive relationships and positive learning experiences.

The research makes two unique contributions to the field of PSNA in the form of a model which presents a five-component approach to creating a school environment which promotes school attendance and an audit tool which intends to provide a guide for schools to consider potential adaptations which could be made to the school environment in relation to each of the five components of the model.

It is recommended that Educational Psychologist could support school attendance systemically, within groups and by working with individual pupils and staff members.


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