School Attendance

Information for Educators

Improving school attendance should be a school-wide and classroom based initiative. There is no one strategy that will work for all students and all schools. Educators must locally develop strategies that are community, school-wide and classroom based.

What Teachers Can Do...

Teachers, as the primary contact with students, are critical in any plan to improve student attendance.

Acknowledge a Student's Good Attendance
  • positive comment
  • extra time on the computer
  • a free homework pass for good/improved attendance
  • a good attendance certificate
  • positive notes that go home to parents
  • "First-in-line" privileges for lunch or dismissal
  • Name on the “attendance wall” in the classroom
  • Chance to be the teacher’s assistant
  • Cookie/muffin coupon
  • School swag for attendance, such as pencils, pens, tee shirts

For more information: Incentives

  • Avoid recognizing only perfect attendance, sometimes students must be away for illness and it is not wise to encourage children to come to school when they are sick. Students should be rewarded for improved attendance, not just perfect attendance.
  • Offer incentives for families, not just students. Families may appreciate positive phone calls home, food baskets, transportation passes
  • Refer students who are chronically absent to the school counsellor

What Principals Can Do...

Principals in their collaborative work with students, parents, staff and community can implement school-wide initiatives that focus on improving attendance.

  • Make regular daily attendance a priority in your school
  • Communicate to students, staff, parents and the community your expectation of regular daily attendance
  • Establish clear attendance policies
  • Collect and analyze reliable attendance data that informs the school division and school policies and practices
  • Make home visits for students at risk of frequent absenteeism
  • Make improving attendance part of your school plan
  • Work with the staff and parents to establish Alternatives to Suspension
  • Institute “call first time” practice, so parents know the first time the student is truant
  • Invite a student(s) with improved attendance to lunch or to a basketball game of 1:1
  • Create a school-wide challenge goal for attendance and wager (something that shows you are serious, a night on the roof or dying your hair pink)
  • Give your parking stall (for a day or a week), or one closest to the school to the student with the most improved attendance (in high school)
  • Include information on the importance of regular daily attendance in your school newsletter and on your website
  • Promote the “Everybody in School Every Day” campaign

What Schools Can Do...

There are many school-wide initiatives that improve attendance and student engagement. A school that uses school-based data and evidence-based practices can be very effective in improving school attendance.

  • Make students and parents feel welcome in the school
  • Establish procedures for regular data collection
  • Monitor attendance data daily/weekly
  • Build awareness of the importance of good attendance, through posters, slogans, messages on the school entrance leader board or television
  • Establish a Tiered Intervention Model to improve attendance
  • Create an environment where each student connects with a caring adult daily
  • Focus on transition years to assist in making students and parents welcome in the new school
  • Support inter-class competitions for the best attendance
  • Create swag that rewards regular daily attendance
  • Promote "Perfect Attendance Month" in March of each year
  • Communicate to all the school staff that attendance is everyone’s responsibility
  • Create an attendance trophy that is given out at a monthly assembly for the class with the best attendance
  • Create classroom and whole school thermometers that record daily or weekly attendance
  • Give incentive (like a popcorn party) for all students with good attendance
  • Convey clear expectations and rules
  • Establish a student voice council that involves students at risk for non-attendance; ask about the barriers to attendance and look for student centered solutions
  • Have a workshop for parents on attendance, focusing on policies, procedures and supports
  • Pay attention to safety and security of all students by putting in place bullying and violence prevention programs, conflict resolution processes, increase adult supervision and implement crisis plans as needed
  • Implement health related strategies to reduce the number of student sick days such as, hand washing, immunization programs, nutrition education
  • Bridge language and cultural difference through the use of interpreters, cultural liaisons, hosting cultural events in the school
  • Improve student connection to the school through extracurricular activities that meet a broad spectrum of interests

For more information: School-based Initiatives

Tiered Intervention Model

A tiered intervention model to improve attendance is based on Response to Intervention (RTI) model and can be seamlessly integrated with Positive Behaviour and Intervention Supports (PBIS).

A tiered intervention to improve attendance is based on positive expectations for the daily attendance of all students.  A goal of 96% attendance for all students is celebrated, and students are aware that their attendance at school matters.

The three-tiered model:

  1. Universal supports for all students.
  2. Some examples are:

    • Creating a positive school climate where all students feel welcome and safe
    • Working with families and communities to communicate the importance of daily attendance
    • Rewarding all students for daily attendance as well as the students who are demonstrating improved attendance
    • Collecting and analyzing data to better understand the attendance patterns at your  school, in order the target interventions that specifically address the needs of your school
    • Adult supervision, enhanced security and crisis plans
    • Flexible educational methods to allow for gradual accumulation of academic skills
    • Teaching health practices that reduce illness such as hand washing and good nutrition practices
    • Educate teachers and parents on the early signs of school refusal
  3. The Second Tier – Intervention Programs
    This level of intervention will be required for some students at the school. The percentage of attendance for this group may vary but generally this intervention is focused on the students who have 80% or more attendance.

    Some examples are:

    • Re-teaching attendance practices
    • Work from a strength-based philosophy
    • Identifying at-risk students and their families
    • Documenting and monitoring attendance
    • Working closely with the family to supervise attendance, prevent unnecessary incidences of the child staying home
    • Resolve academic issues
    • Build the relationship between the teacher and the student, as well as the home and school
    • Engage community agencies as appropriate
  4. The Third Tier – Intensive Intervention
    The third tier of intervention is the most intense and students are at high risk to leave school prior to graduation. These students have well established patterns of non-attendance require a great deal of support to improve their attendance.
  5. Some examples are:

    • Specific individual plans to address their concerns
    • Mental health referral and intervention
    • Alternative educational settings
    • Through educational assessment to address learning issues and gaps
    • Wrap around service for the child and the family


Education Coordinating Council

The UNLV Child School Refusal and Anxiety Disorders Clinic

Measuring the Function of School Refusal Behaviour: The School Refusal Assessment Scale

Alternatives to Suspension

“Extensive research shows that excluding children from school for disciplinary problems is often ineffective, even counterproductive.  Children learn best when they are in school. Overreliance on out-of-school suspensions contributes to poor academic achievement, high drop-out rates, and the staggering achievement gap between low-income minority children in Connecticut and their higher-income peers.  Students often perceive out-of-school suspension as a “vacation” from school and exclusion from school rarely prevents – or addresses the underlying causes of – the behaviour.”
Dufresne, A., Hillman, A.; Carson, C.; Kramer, T.; (2010). Teaching Discipline: A Toolkit for Educators - Positive Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspensions

A Toronto study* identifies some qualities of schools that have lower-than-average suspension rates:
Positive school climate

  • Screening of students to ensure that educational programs are appropriate to interests, abilities, and learning styles
  • Lack of apathy – enthusiastic staff and students
  • Positive image of students in the eyes of staff
  • Decentralization of disciplinary decision making
  • High levels of student participation in school activities
  • Pro-active/preventative discipline approach rather than punishment orientation
  • Clearly defined discipline policy with clear consequences for breaking the code of conduct
  • High parental involvement
  • Staff participation in curriculum design

*Openheime, J. and Ziegler, S. (1988).  Suspension, Alternatives to Suspension and other Approaches to Discipline. Toronto, ON: Toronto board of Education Research Services

Strategies to Reduce Suspension

Effective discipline is essential for students to learn, and teachers to teach. The goal of any disciplinary practice is to change the behaviour and build the skills and strategies that allow the student to self regulate.  Just as we would not remove a child from school for poor academic performance, schools must be thoughtful in denying school to children who have not yet learned to behave appropriately.

The following strategies have been categorized for the convenience of presenting the information, however, many of the strategies can be used in a variety of setting, circumstances and combinations.

When to Use Suspension

Some questions to consider when suspension appears to be the only option:

  • What is the age of the student?
  • Is the child able to control his/her behaviour?
  • Have all other options been exhausted?
  • What is the history or circumstance of the student?
  • Did the child understand the possible consequences of his or her behaviour?
  • Does the student’s attendance at school create an unacceptable risk to other students or staff?
  • How will the discipline affect the student’s ongoing education?
  • How will the student’s learning environment be different upon their return from the suspension?

When used judiciously, suspension can have positive effects, including:*

  • Ensuring safety for everyone in the school community
  • Assigning clear consequences for a range of inappropriate behaviours
  • Providing the time for planning support for behaviour change
  • Promoting collaboration among family, school, and other community services to solve problems

*British Columbia Ministry of Education, 1999, Focus on Suspension: A Resource for Schools


Dufresne, A., Hillman, A.; Carson, C.; Kramer, T.; (2010).
Teaching Discipline: A Toolkit for Educators on Positive Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspensions.

British Columbia Ministry of Education, 1999, Focus on Suspension: A Resource for Schools.

Alternatives to Out-of-School Suspension.  TeachSafeSchools.Org

Advancement Project, Alternatives to Suspension, Expulsion, and School-Based Arrest

Peterson, R.L. Impact. Ten Alternatives to Suspension. 

The Principal’s Partnership. Research Brief, Alternative Schools.

PBIS World.Com

Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention-Center for the Prevention of School Violence, (2003).
Project EASE: Promising Strategies Document. Adobe PDF Document

Classroom Strategies

  • Meeting the instructional needs of each child – activities that are attainable, and demonstrate care and respect for all, and build on student areas of strength
  • Classroom environment – removing visual distraction, use of soft music in the background, preferential seating based on need
  • Adequate supervision – through the collection of data, high incidence areas can be identified and additional supervision implemented
  • Classroom assessment – assessment that is clearly communicated, recognizes the diversity of the classroom and allows for different learning styles, rates and paces
  • Re-teaching of expectations and skills
  • Mini-course/training on topics such as conflict resolution
  • Reminders and/or re-direction
  • Student/teacher conference (after the student had reduced anxiety and anger)
  • Loss of privileges
  • Role-playing
  • Parental out-reach
  • Time-out period
  • Self-reflection exercises
  • Mediation strategies to help students reduce stress

In-School Alternatives

  • Staff development in WEVAS (Working Effectively with Violent and Aggressive States) or similar programs
  • Referral to counsellor or social worker
  • Restorative practices such as peace circles
  • Saturday School
  • Behaviour contracts
  • Referral to an after school program
  • Referral to an in-school suspension center or support center
  • Mentoring
  • Flexible time schedule
  • Referral to community based services

School-Wide Programs

  • Positive Behavioural Intervention and Supports (PBIS)
    PBIS is a “decision making framework that guides selection, integration, and implementation of the best evidence-based academic and behavioral practices for improving important academic and behavior outcomes for all students”. The program emphasises the collaborative development and teaching of clear behavioural expectations and rewarding students for following them rather than waiting for students to misbehave. PBIS seeks to change the culture of the school by focusing on positive behaviour and reducing the need for punishment.
  • Restorative Justice
    Restorative Justice is an approach addressing misbehaviour,conflict and offenses that is grounded in respect for the persons involved, ensures that all parties have a voice, holds the offender responsible and provides for the resolution of the problem and restores the relationships. Restorative Justice teaches students that they are a part of a community.
    Restorative Justice Information for Parents and Students
    Adobe PDF Document
    Restorative Justice 4 School
  • Peer Helping: counselling/mediation/conflict resolution
    Peer mediation or peer conflict resolution programs feature groups of student volunteers who are trained to help their peers resolve disputes.  In elementary schools peer mediators usually work to resolve playground disputes; where as in high schools the peer mediation process tends to be more formal and may involve a referral after the dispute has occurred and is usually supervised by the school counsellor.
    Question to Consider When Initiating a Peer Mediation Program
    Resources for School Mental Health Clinicians: Conflict Resolution/Peer Mediation

Alternative or Off-Site Locations

Sometimes an alternative school or an off-site school location is what the student needs to learn. The shift away from a traditional high school to classes that have lower numbers, greater flexibility and are often more grounded in one-on-one support and interaction may be the most effective for the student.

There are many variations on alternative schools; no one model is more effective than another. The most successful model is the one that is needed by the students at this particular point in time.

Suspended students are sometimes placed in an alternative or off-site location to provide the school and family time to work together to determine the most appropriate programming. This placement may be short term, a few days or weeks, or when needed the placement could be longer depending on the services and structures that are provided by the school division. What is most important is that the student does not experience any interruption in their learning.

Some possibilities may be:

  • An alternative classroom within the school
  • A school-with-in-a- school
  • A separate alternative school
  • Distance education or on-line learning – supported by professionals from the school division
  • Home programming, where the school provides programming to the student daily and learning expectations are clearly defined, monitored and assessed
  • Homeschooling