Learning and Teaching in Action: Open Issue

Student in language lab


Attendance as a measure of student motivation and engagement

Nicola Hughes

The link between attendance and Foundation Year success

As university academics we most of us would agree that there is a link between student attendance at classes and eventual success. We would concur that in most instances attendance can be used as a measure of student engagement in the same way that we can use submission of the first assignment. With this in mind departments in universities across the country employ various methods of attendance monitoring implementing a wide range of interventions as a result. What is less clear is what constitutes an acceptable level of attendance? How strong is the correlation between attendance and success?

Students enrol onto a level zero Foundation Year because they do not meet the entry requirements to go directly onto year one of a degree programme, despite having the intellectual potential. There are a multitude of reasons as to why this may have occurred but in many cases it is a result of low levels of motivation and lack of engagement during their previous educational experiences. Many of these students bring the same patterns of behaviour with them to the Foundation Year meaning that attendance can often be an issue. For this reason attendance management forms a key part of the Programme’s “Student Success Strategy” and we collect and keep attendance data at regular intervals during the academic year.

I thought it would be interesting to use the data from the 2007/08 cohort of 726 Foundation Year students based at the All Saints Campus to try to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph.

Patterns of attendance

Students were classified into groups according to their attendance history (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Numbers of students falling into each attendance group (whole cohort)

The modal attendance group is the 80-89% attendance with 74% of students attending at least 50% of their classes. The median attendance is 68%


Effect of gender on patterns of attendance:

the attendance figures were further analysed according to gender (Figure 2)

Figure 2: Number of students falling into each attendance category (by gender)


Nearly two thirds of Foundation Year students are male. Although the modal attendance group for both genders is 80-89%, the median differs significantly. For females median attendance is 71% whilst for males it is only 62%. Males are far more likely to demonstrate low levels of attendance than females with 31% of male students attending less than half their classes compared to only 19% of female students.

These findings also correlate with findings from the annual Foundation Year student survey in which female students are much less likely to find attendance monitoring useful (48%) than male students (66%).

These differences in attendance undoubtedly influence the big difference in pass rates observed between the genders. In 2007/2008 there was a 16 percentage points difference between the success rates of female and male students on the Foundation Year.


Effect of attendance on success

The attendance patterns of three groups of students were examined: Those who had passed the year at the first attempt, those who required reassessment and those who withdrew from the course after Spring 2008. the results are shown in Figure 3. The results indicate that a student needs to attend at least 70% of their classes to have a greater than 50% chance of passing the Foundation Year at the first sitting.

Figure 3: Proportion of students passing at first attempt, requiring reassessments or withdrawing before examination board (excludes withdrawals prior to Spring 2008).


The figures were then analysed to take into account those who had passed overall, following the reassessment examination board. These results are shown in Figure 4. The results confirm earlier studies which showed that for a student to have more than a 50% chance of passing the Foundation Year they must attend at least 50% of their classes.

Figure 4: Proportion of students passing, failing to progress or withdrawing following reassessment examination board (again excludes withdrawals prior to Spring 2008)



Whilst undoubtedly it remains in the best interest of a student to attend all of their classes this study does indicate those levels which need to be achieved for them to have a better than evens chance of passing their programme of study. This means that we can direct our limited resources at targeting interventions to those most likely to benefit. By measuring outcomes in this manner we can then also evaluate the effectiveness of such interventions and redesign or redirect them should there be no measurable beneficial effect. We can also use such data in induction programmes and interventions to support the message about the importance of engagement, particularly attendance.



This article will appear in the April 2009 edition of "Inform - A journal for international foundation programme professionals", University of Reading

about the author

Nicola Hughes
Department of Combined Honours and Foundation Studies

e-mail: n.t.hughes@mmu.ac.uk
telephone: 0161 247 1168

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Spring 2009
ISSN 1477-1241