The role of Early Notification in effective Attendance Management
What is ‘Early Notification’?
“Early Notification (EN) is the use of text and/or email messages to notify parents that their child is an unexplained absence from school.
“We can’t imagine managing attendance without School-links. With seventeen hundred students, it saves us hours every day.”
Deputy Principal, Hamilton Girls High School
Parents have the opportunity to reply and notify the school of the reason for the absence (e.g. sickness) or that they aren’t aware of the absence, which could be a safety or truancy issue.
Why Early Notification?
The Government has announced a new target to have 70 percent of children attending school regularly by 2024 and 75 percent by 2026. Regularly means missing no more than one day per fortnight. In term two of last year 2022, the attendance figure was just 60 percent. School attendance has been steadily declining since 2015, a situation made worse by Covid-19.
A truancy inquiry was carried out last year by Parliament’s education and workforce select committee and the Government has adopted the targets it recommended. The Government acknowledged there are many reasons for non-attendance, but know parents want the best for their children. The Government, in announcing the new target, pointed out that truancy has a strong follow-on effect on literacy and mathematical standards, leaving some young people virtually illiterate when they seek work.
The figures show that what was once regarded as harmless “bunking” is now something much worse, harming thousands of children.
The Government’s strategy outlines a number of actions intended to get students back in the classroom. One key action is that by 2026, schools will be expected to notify families of every absence on the day it happens, and to take further action after five days of absence in a given term.
Early Notification Management Systems makes it easy to notify parents, to record responses, and to share this information with the Attendance Officer.
“One key action is that by 2026, schools will be expected to notify families of every absence on the day it happens, and to take further action after five days of absence in a given term.
Early Notification Management Systems make it easy to notify parents, to record responses, and to share this information with the Attendance Officer.”
Ministry of Education Attendance & Engagement Strategy Document.
How does EN work?
All Student Management Systems in New Zealand support the use of EN in their Attendance or Absence Management modules. EN simply integrates into school absence management as follows:
1) Roll marking
When completing the roll, teachers will mark absent students as an ‘Unexplained Absence’ using the ‘?’ Attendance Code when they don’t know the reason for the absence.
2) Creating a list of absent students
Administrative staff ensure all known student absence information has been entered and cross checked, and that only students with an unexplained absence are listed for parent/carer notification.
3) Notifying the parent/carer
As soon as practicable on the day of a student’s absence, administrative staff send an absence notification message to the parents/caregivers. They select the students and then click a button to send the text and/or email. The Student Management System assembles a file with student names and caregiver contact details and seamlessly sends it to the EN provider (e.g. School-links) who then distributes the absence notification messages via text/email. These messages are normally received within a few minutes. Staff can easily check that notifications have been sent successfully by checking transmission reports.
4) Parent/caregiver response
On receipt of the message the parents/caregivers can reply via text, email or call the school.
5) Following up
The administrator is then able to process the responses so the student’s attendance is updated or non-responses are followed up.
6) Record keeping
It is a Government requirement that schools keep a record of all notifications, follow up and parent/caregiver responses so they can be retrieved when necessary. This information is automatically stored in School-links and most Student Management Systems.
“It is a fantastic service. It saves us from having to ring everybody – it is completely automated.”
Deputy Principal, Waiheke High School
Note: Email can also be used for EN. However, some schools choose not to use email as it may not be seen by the caregiver until much later in the day. Some schools also use push notifications to a school app but this relies on parents downloading the app, and having notifications turned on.
Benefits of Early Notification via SMS for parents and caregivers
Feedback from our customers says that texts are the preferred method of school communication for most parents and caregivers.
Fast notification of absences in what could potentially be a child safety issue.
Provides a quick reply back function for parent and caregivers through text and email.
It is less embarrassing for parents/caregivers to respond to a text than a phone call if they have forgotten to notify the school of their child’s absence or the reason for the child’s absence is personal.
Texting is more convenient for those who are unavailable to respond to personal calls during work or study hours.
Benefits of Early Notification via SMS for Schools
Improves student achievement, punctuality and retention.
Reduces unjustified non-attendance and prevents casual truancy becoming habit-forming.
Less time spent contacting caregivers of absent students.
Text messaging feels less intrusive for office staff than a phone call.
Less exposure of staff to abusive parents and caregivers.
Caregivers’ exact responses go directly back into the Student Management System and are easily viewable by office staff, making them efficient to process, a service offered by some EN providers including School-links.
Responses can also be saved in the Student Notes, a service offered by some Student Management Systems.
The history of sent messages and the caregiver’s exact responses are archived for later reporting, a service offered by some EN providers including School-links.
“Our families can be reluctant to engage for any number of reasons and texting was less intrusive than a phone call asking why children weren’t at school. We saw responses increase straight away.”
Deputy Principal, Hora Hora School.
The use of EN can mean significant cost savings for schools. This is through reduced telecommunications costs and more efficient use of office staff time.
Examples of savings from reduced telecommunications costs:
Figure 1: How much phone calls could be costing you
Assuming a 5% rate for unexplained absentees per day (a low rate for many schools).
Absentee follow-up phone call costs are based on $1.00 per phone call. Some calls will be more. Even leaving a message will cost this much.
Figure 2: Saving resources by sending absentee notifications via text message at 16 cents per text
Try calculating it for your school’s average absentee rate. The more unexplained absentees, the more you can save with EN.
School administrators can spend hours each day dealing with absences and notifications. Using EN means that, effectively, a lot of phone calls can be made very quickly by replacing them with text messages. This gives administrators time to follow up on truants or complete other tasks.
“I am finished with attendance by 10 o’clock meaning we quickly know all our children are safe and accounted for. Plus, it saves me at least three hours a week of admin time in a normal week, heaps more as we worked through COVID.”
Office Administrator, Dunedin North Intermediate
Selecting an Early Notification Provider
There are only three approved EN providers in New Zealand and they all conform to the protocol established by the Ministry of Education. This protocol sets out the rules of engagement between your Student Management System and the EN provider. Despite this, not all EN providers are the same or offer the same services and features.
Things to look for when choosing an Early Notification provider:
Does not rely solely on push notifications to an app. Not all parents and caregivers download the app and have push notifications turned on.
Complete integration with your Student Management System. Messages go out and replies (both text and email) are received directly into the Absence Manager in your Student Management System, allowing efficient management of unexplained absences.
The ability to readily set and change your message wording.
The ability to view EN batches (sent messages and replies) outside of the Student Management System, allowing others to track progress without needing access to the Student Management System.
The ability to view archived batches going back more than two weeks.
The ability to search and report on notifications relating to a specific student.
Training specific to the Student Management System and the education sector.
Support that is knowledgeable of the different Student Management Systems and how their Attendance Management systems work.
Consider ongoing costs and the ease and expense of support. Does your EN provider have an 0800 support phone number? Do they provide training? At what cost?
“The beauty is that there is no app required. Parents have enough apps in their lives!”
Office Administrator, Dunedin North Intermediate
“School-links customer service is absolutely fantastic. I can ask them anything. No question is too silly, and they bend over backwards to help you. I highly recommend them.”
Deputy Principal, Hamilton Girls High School
School-links schools have reported:
a definite and immediate drop in truancy
large schools are following up on absentees daily instead of weekly
average time spent chasing up absentees has reduced from two hours to less than 10 minutes a day
quality, accuracy and accessibility of contact information has improved
parents are more proactive in advising schools when children will be absent and why
There is a well-established relationship between attendance and achievement. Research indicates each day of absence from school predicts a similar drop in attainment, however it also tells us that it is never too late to turn attendance around.
Ministry of Education Attendance & Engagement Strategy Document
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