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Improving attendance through a focus on health and happiness

In this article we outline how The Tapscott Learning Trust is tackling attendance challenges through focusing on our children's health and happiness.

Attendance is everyone’s top priority. Gillian Keegan, Dame Rachel De Souza, Bridgit Phillipson to name a few. And rightly so. The figures are shocking: 1 in 5 children persistently absent with vulnerable groups far more likely to be missing more school.

Of course, the reasons are complex: The ‘broken social contract’ or, simply, parents not seeing the need for their child to be at school every day post-COVID as the recent Centre for Social Justice report highlighted; the pressure on the wider-system and its impact on children and families struggling with their health and those with SEND; the cost of living pressures; changes to working patterns.

Across our Trust, we see all of this impacting our children and families. Our schools in Newham have very mobile populations with as many as 20% of children joining the school mid-phase. We also have very high numbers with families living abroad. Increasingly, we are seeing families return to their home countries for medical or dental treatment as well as funerals, emergencies and to visit family. Then there is the heightened anxiety around illness post-pandemic. 

As a Trust, we prioritise the health and happiness of our children, our teams, and our communities. We do this because it is fundamentally important in its own right. It is also the underlying factor that influences every other aspect of what we do. Healthy, happy children come to school more regularly. They are more effective learners. They are better able to build positive relationships and regulate their emotions. The same goes for the adults that care for them and work with them. Healthy, happy adults equal healthy, happy children. 

There is no one solution to ‘attendance’. Below is where we have been putting our focus.


Relationships (relationships, relationships)

You have to trust someone with the most important part of your life every day. That’s a lot of trust. You have to know that they will care for them, particularly when they aren’t feeling 100%. You have to believe that sending them in every day is for the best. Ideally, you want them to go with a spring in their step - or at least willingly. In our experience, so much of this is down to relationships. We invest significant time and energy in building relationships. Between children and teachers; between the school and parents. 

Our teams are in the playgrounds and on the gates every morning and afternoon. We find every opportunity to invite parents in and engage with them: Taking the time to seek out parents and share something wonderful their child has done that day; Parents Evenings with stalls and food to create community events; meet your teacher at the beginning of the year; learn with your child sessions for parents to experience lessons alongside their children.  

Equally, with children. We don’t want to find out about a child when we sit next to them on the tube on the way back from a trip in June. We support our teams to really get to know children and build relationships with them based on kindness, compassion and a genuine investment in their health, happiness and success. We know this takes time and so allow for that in the timetable or ensure the support is there to enable this. Above all, we prioritise this in our conversations, interactions and decisions.

These personal approaches reap real benefits. A child at one of our schools was struggling with a complex mix of challenges. Both their parent and their siblings were facing serious health and other issues. Through building positive relationships and providing support for the family’s wellbeing, the child’s attendance increased 23% over the course of Autumn Term. Another family had relocated and the commute had significantly increased. We worked with them both on establishing morning routines and also providing support through breakfast and before school clubs. This significantly improved the children’s punctuality.


Unsurprisingly, children’s health is at the core of our offer. This is adapted to respond to the specific communities at each of our schools but you would see: 2 hours of timetabled PE per week; before and after school clubs free of charge with many focused on children being active; play and lunchtimes prioritising children being active; active learning breaks and active learning across the curriculum. Our Sports Hub also organises competitions and provides support and training for teachers across the Trust.

Children's mental health is just as important and all of our schools have specifically designed curriculum and approaches that enable children to understand their own emotions and provide them with strategies to effectively manage these. By providing children with strategies for understanding and effectively managing their emotions, we see positive impacts on their attendance.



Our schools are proudly inclusive. We ensure the curriculum, pedagogy and support is adapted so all children can succeed. This removes so much of the anxiety and worry children can feel. Happier, healthier children equals better attendance.

Our work on multilingualism is looking to change the perception of ‘EAL children’. By emphasising children’s home languages we are not only unlocking their potential but also giving them real pride in their identity. Through this, they are not just integrated into the school but add their own unique part to the overall culture; growing and enhancing the whole. 

Does all of this lead to 100% attendance? Absolutely not. We have families who choose to travel during term-time. We have families who keep their children off when they have a sniffle. However, over 95% of our parents say their children are happy at school and a similar percentage of our children say the same. If they are happy they will want to be here and by investing in these key areas, we can continue to maximise attendance. There is no silver bullet but our experience shows these approaches do work.


We are currently interested in talking to schools about what they want from a Trust with a view to finding like-minded people who may want to work together. If you would be interested in discussing this or our work more generally, please get in touch with Ben Levinson.