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  What Works - The Work Program

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Ranfurly Primary School, Victoria

Some attendance strategies are very personal

Background | Attendance strategies | Coming on time in Preps


Background

Ranfurly

Mildura is in the far north-west of Victoria on the Murray River. Across the river is New South Wales and the South Australian border is only about 100 kilometres away. The district is known for its production of fruit, olives, grains, vegetables and wine and has a culturally diverse population.

In Mildura's total population of over 50,000 there are more than 1000 Indigenous people. Apart from Indigenous students, school populations reflect the character of the local community and there are students from a variety of non-English speaking backgrounds.

Unemployment is above the state average, and other indicators also show relative socio-economic disadvantage.

Ranfurly Primary School is located in a developing area of Mildura and has close to 500 students. The Indigenous population is between 50 and 80 and the fluctuation in numbers is due to mobility of some families. This raises its own issues in terms of continuity of schooling.


Attendance strategies

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Ian Campbell

Assistant principal, Ian Campbell, discusses some particular initiatives.


When our team discussed the project, our major What Works goal was to develop home school partnerships that would enhance the educational opportunity of all students. Within that, there were two focuses, one about contact with parents and the other about student engagement. 'Engagement' depends on attendance.

One of our aims was to help parents and carers recognise that missing school could have a big effect on the children and their future.

We talked with our Koorie Educator, Sid Johnson, and other community members about how we could get more Koorie parents and carers involved in helping their kids at home. Our target was to have six Koorie parents or carers come to school every week to participate in some language and numeracy based programs. We called it 'parent mentoring' because we hoped they'd be able to mentor their children at home.

We realised that many parents hadn't had good experiences at school themselves and we didn't expect them to become literacy or numeracy experts. We just hoped to be able to give them a few ideas about how they could help their own kids. We thought that maybe if they liked the experience, they'd tell other people and more would come. At first we tried to have a meeting format but the parents didn't want that, so we changed the program so that they would be working in classrooms. The parents weren't really comfortable with that either.

We didn't meet our target, but we found out that parents would like to be able to help their kids at home. At the moment we don't have the resources to follow up with a much more detailed program.

Anyway, I think the best messenger for this is the kids. So when we have special days at school, like celebrations when the kids have finished an inquiry into whatever they're learning about, then parents are always invited to join in the celebrations. That's when Koorie families will come and watch. And when kids made billy carts, the Koorie dads came and gave them a hand. That's real involvement and I think that's what we should be pushing.

Last year we started promoting 100 percent attendance at school. We developed a new attendance report for parents so that they could see visually what is happening. A gold star indicates 97% attendance or better and a green dot is for 95-97%. Orange and red dots indicate lower attendance, which we think puts the kid at risk of not being able to keep in touch with their work. Almost all parents have reacted well.

Koorie Educator Sid Johnson's first duty each day is to go around the classrooms with his own Koorie roll and he does a basic wellbeing check as well. Of course a good number of kids are here every day anyway, so it's not an issue. But for some others he actually does 'mood charts' and if he finds that kids are tired or hungry, then we can make special arrangements for them (such as breakfast). Otherwise, kids are in no condition to learn.

And then there are the attendance incentives. Each month we acknowledge 100% attendance with some prizes. We have four units operating within the school: Prep, Years 1 & 2, Years 3 & 4 and Years 5 & 6. Two students per unit are drawn out and receive some great prizes.

We have secured some sponsorship for the prizes from local businesses, so there are deckchairs, sports bags, picnic rugs and that sort of thing. These prizes are things kids would like to have and can keep. Our school canteen also provides a lunch voucher for second prize. Kids can still get to the prize draw if they have explained absences, and that has definitely helped with the number of notes from parents about absences. We started getting notes from parents we have never received notes from before because their kids wanted to be part of the prize draw. Of course, there are some disappointments for kids who miss out, but we try to make sure that kids with genuine reasons for absence don't miss out on being in the draw.

At the end of each term we celebrate and acknowledge the kids who haven't missed a day of school ('bums on seats' every day) with a sausage sizzle.

Another whole class incentive involves teachers displaying their attendance charts in classrooms and explaining them. Teachers are also encouraged to show the students how the attendance roll is marked, with a stroke (–) for being present and (O) when the student is absent. The 'O' represents a hole in the student's learning. Teachers also address tomorrow's timetable at the end of the day and emphasis the need to be here for this class or this activity. And then when the class has 100% attendance for the week, they will get a little prize on the Friday. We've found the peer pressure within the classrooms just helps get more kids to school.

Some attendance strategies are very personal. We had a Commonwealth grant to install a couple of new flagpoles in our new assembly area and we fly the Aboriginal and Australian flags. We could have chosen anyone as flag monitors, but we chose some of our Koorie kids. One of them had a poor attendance record, but since he's had the flag job he has only missed one day of school, and he's always here early to get the flags flying.

As a result of all this, our attendance rates have gone from 68% of students with 95% or better attendance last year, to 86% this year.


Coming on-time in Preps

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Angela Mitchell

Prep class teacher, Angela Mitchell, talks about what has happened in her room.


We have been concentrating on increasing our students' attendance but also trying to focus on getting our kids to school on time. I had a number of students who were coming to school late every day and I wanted an incentive that not only got them to school but also made them accountable to get to school on time. So I sat with my kids and we started talking about why they were coming to school late, and I found that some of it was that they didn't use their alarm clocks and they didn't have a set routine in the morning.

Then our Koorie support worker took photos of the students doing 'what needed to be' their morning routine. We had photos of the children waking up, brushing their teeth and eating breakfast and we used the photos to make morning charts that were visual and meaningful for the kids. Next we had a good look at the digital clock. It's all about telling the time in digital format, because those are the clocks kids have at home. It could be on mobile phones or on DVD players. When I started showing them what the digital time looked like, then they made the connections with the DVD player in the lounge room.

The next step was to talk to the parents, which I did as part of our 'student led conferences'. The students showed the charts to their parents or grandparents and we went through the charts and asked them whether they thought it would work.

They all agreed to it, but then we negotiated the times a little bit more because each situation was different. Once this was done each student had their own chart with their own photos and times on it that they could take home and put on the fridge.

The next part was setting up the incentive. When the students come to school on time they put up a sticker on their own chart for that day. Then on Fridays I ring Ian and he comes in to see those who have come to school every day and on time all week. They get a sticker on their chests and an extra one on their chart. The children have really responded to the chart and receiving the praise from Ian. They actually compete against each other to get the most stickers.

We even had a prep student who got himself up and dressed and ran to school by himself just so he could get to school on time and get his sticker. His mother came up the school five minutes later to see if he was at school because she couldn't find him. They want to be here every day and they want to be on time.

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