Former captain quick off the mark to help alma mater

Drilling down into data has led to more accurate rolls and improved attendance at a technology high school. Linda Doherty reports.

A teacher looks at an image on a mobile phone while students work in the background. A teacher looks at an image on a mobile phone while students work in the background.
Image: The mobile and desktop attendance app, Attndr, is making at difference at Gymea Technology High School.

Five years ago, when Gymea Technology High School was looking for ways to improve its attendance data collection the principal simply had to look on the school honour board.

With insights and ideas from staff, principal Peter Marsh called on 2011 school captain and software developer Anthony Sansonios to create a mobile and desktop attendance app, Attndr.

For a school that embraces technology across its campus, the decision to enlist Mr Sansonios’s company TwoPi Code was an obvious approach.

Mr Marsh said using technology to collect, record and communicate attendance data had saved time and helped teachers and office staff maintain accurate records for the school overall and for individual students.

“The strength is the ongoing ability to communicate with families and students to let them know each day of any attendance concerns, to follow up each week to seek justifications for absences, and to identify attendance history,” he said.

Mr Marsh said the app gave the school visibility on attendance data in real time, provided a more accurate roll and has led to student-centred improvements.

“Understanding where the challenges were with the accuracy of data and attendance practices were crucial to ensure systems and practices were on the mark,” he said.

Attndr has since been rebranded as quickmark and is now used by many other schools.

Gymea Technology High School, on Dharawal Country, has since drilled further into the data and increased communication with parents, carers and students about the importance of sustained attendance and the link to strong student engagement.

The overall attendance rate for the school of 621 students is now 88.1 per cent.

In the past year there has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of students attending more than 90 per cent of the time.

The number of students attending less than 85 per cent has fallen by 7.5 per cent in the same period.

Rolling roll call

Gymea Technology High School used to mark the roll in period one, but teachers now tap into quickmark on their laptops or mobile phones to record attendance in every lesson from period zero before school to period eight after school, and for sport and excursions.

The data is exported to the Department’s software platform, Scout. At the end of each school day teachers receive an email if they have missed marking their class roll.

Parents and carers receive a text message if their children are absent and are asked to provide a reason. In the past year unexplained absences at Gymea Technology High School have fallen by seven per cent.

Mr Marsh said staff interrogated attendance data to identify if there were cohorts or groups of students in need of specific strategies to improve engagement at school.

“Our examination of the data, and having wider discussions around that data, have highlighted where improvements could be made,” he said.

For example, the school noticed some senior students who Mr Marsh said “had probably slept in” were arriving five to 10 minutes late to class and were being marked as a partial absence, instead of just late.

Mr Marsh said the school also linked strong attendance as a behaviour routine that leads to improved student engagement.

At the end of each week families are sent progress summaries, which includes students’ attendance that week as well as formative assessments and teachers’ estimates of engagement.

“Communication with parents provides a seamless approach to following up absences and providing that ongoing pattern of attendance so the individual trends of positive attendance, and recurring issues, can be seen by families and students,” Mr Marsh said.

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