In the 2013 National Education Reform Agreement, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set national targets for school attendance as a way to monitor the extent to which all school children are engaged in and benefitting from formal schooling, recognising that, alongside engagement in the classroom,improving attendance rates is a critical step in closing the gaps in educational outcomes for disadvantaged students.
This was reconfirmed by all Commonwealth, state and territory governments in the 2018 National Schools Reform Agreement, which re-stated the goal to improve student engagement, evidenced through increasing “the proportion of students attending school to 90 per cent or more of the time, including students from priority equity cohorts” (Council of Australian Governments, 2018).
However, research has demonstrated that boosting attendance, especially in educationally vulnerable groups, is challenging. This historical intractability should not stop efforts to increase attendance rates as there are a range of promising strategies that may be able to help address the issue.
Improving attendance requires a deep appreciation of the complex and myriad factors that influence student, family and community engagement. Understanding the relationship between attendance and achievement can help teachers, school leaders, parents, and school communities create welcoming school environments, promote positive attendance habits and tailor early and individualised interventions to address problematic absenteeism.