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Can improving the academic buoyancy of secondary school students improve their school attendance?

ANDERSON, SOPHIE,CHARLOTTE (2022) Can improving the academic buoyancy of secondary school students improve their school attendance? Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This study explores a potential link between academic buoyancy, school attendance and mindfulness in Key Stage 3 students in English state-funded schools. Following a unique time in school history, schools are continuing to experience higher-than-normal school absences in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continuing school-related challenges such as studying from home, anxiety relating to examinations and the impact on students’ futures, breakdowns in social relationships with peers and general disengagement from school have been reported as reasons for students’ absence (Ofsted, 2022). Despite the most recent trends in school absence being largely driven by the pandemic, persistent absence has continued to increase without including students’ covid non-attendance in the figures (GOV.UK, 2021e). Understanding the factors that drive problematic school absence, particularly persistent and unauthorised absence, and finding evidence-based and data-driven ways to intervene have been highlighted as government priorities for the current Education Secretary. Driving factors such as improving student mental health and wellbeing are often cited as the motivation for prioritising action in this policy area.

This thesis is underpinned by three key constructs: academic buoyancy, school absence and mindfulness. Academic buoyancy is defined as students’ ability to successfully deal with academic setbacks and challenges that are typical of the ordinary course of school life (Martin & Marsh, 2008a). In this thesis, school absence will encompass all types of school non-attendance and is defined as pupils who fail to attend school (Thambirajah, Grandison & De-Hayes, 2008). Furthermore, mindfulness is defined as, “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003, p.145). In phase one of this PhD project, a systematic review of buoyancy literature identified mindfulness as a potential promising intervention to change students’ levels of academic buoyancy. This review also explores how the construct is defined and measured in existing literature and considers randomised controlled trial (RCT) evidence to assess whether it could be a malleable construct.

In phase two, a longitudinal secondary data analysis of one cohort’s absence and exclusions data (N=536,530) is carried out over their academic career. This phase explores how much data is missing from the National Pupil Database (NPD), what patterns of absence and exclusions exist for this cohort, which students and schools may benefit from an attendance intervention and a series of models are designed to predict which students are most likely to be absent from state-funded schools in England at KS3. This analysis identified that school absence increased as students got older, with the poorest attendance highlighted during the transition between KS3 and KS4. An intervention aimed at Year 9 students attending state-funded schools in the North East region of England may be beneficial. An analysis of the NPD also identified that students’ eligibility for Free School Meals (FSM) was a key predictor of unauthorised absence and persistent absence at KS3. Targeting students in areas of high disadvantage and poverty should be prioritised. The final phase presents a protocol for a potential RCT which combines the findings from phases one and two to test a 10-week mindfulness curriculum. Through implementing a mindfulness intervention in schools this project would ultimately aim to explore the question, can improving academic buoyancy in secondary school students improve their school attendance?

As improving school attendance and students’ mental health and wellbeing are national priorities, the findings of this thesis have implications for educational policymakers and practitioners. For policy makers this thesis offers a different approach to defining a type of resilience which may encompass the wider student population, as opposed to a minority of students who are exposed to significant adversity. For practitioners, this thesis offers an evidence-based approach to identifying a promising intervention which may have the potential to improve students’ ability to cope with the daily challenges encountered at school, which in turn could also improve their school attendance.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Education
Keywords:Academic buoyancy, school attendance, mindfulness, systematic review, secondary data analysis, RCT
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Education, School of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:16 Jan 2023 12:44

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