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This small-scale research was undertaken to assess whether modifying the lesson timetable would have any impact on the learners attendance and achievement or in fact what if anything could improve attendance and achievements.

Free essay example:

Action Research: why do learners not attend the college workshops on a regular basis?

Kerry Short

(NVQ childcare assessor and teacher)


This small-scale research was undertaken to assess whether modifying the lesson timetable would have any impact on the learner’s attendance and achievement or in fact what if anything could improve attendance and achievements. I followed McNiff `s advice to adopt an action research methodology, and keep it manageable, small and focused (McNiff, 2002:85) I carried out interventions with my target group. This group of learners have had poor attendance. The data methods I used to assess these interventions were questionnaires alongside individual interviews, group discussions and my reflective journal.


I teach level 2, 3 and 4 childcare and teaching assistants in a college in North West England.  Childcare is a very popular career for both males and females and plays a huge role in the development of children and their families.

My learner group consists of thirteen learners aged 16 onwards. Six learners carry out the role of Apprentice at children’s nurseries whereas the remainder are Teaching Assistants in schools, both primary and secondary. The former group of six learners consisted of persistent late comers, moreover poor attendees. Though I praised them when they did attend, they lacked enthusiasm, and were showing no signs of concern regarding important learning they had missed.

In order to develop timely qualifications learners must attend 90% of college workshops, my report considered the theory behind the learners` attendance. A target of 90% plus attendance could be a huge problem to those learners who have young families and other external commitments. This becomes an unachievable aim and could end up being a demotivating factor (Kressler 2003). The main consideration is what the college can implement to get learners to attend on a regular basis to enable them to complete their qualification timely. Turner (2005:5) said:

“Education is part of a wider social fabric of values, families and employment. What happens within education is, in part, dependant on what happens outside education, in homes, communities and workplaces.” The college policy states, College expects all students to attend all classes punctually and to not knowingly miss class for anything other than illness or exceptional circumstances. This gives the students the best opportunity to be successful in their studies`. What is an exceptional circumstance surely the learners` thoughts on this vary? I believe that I cannot fix a problem without delving further into to it. If I listen to feedback from the learners on the lessons and get feedback on their family life, only then will I know the true reason why attendance is so poor, and only then can I do something worthwhile about it. I therefore intend to do so.

Research Focus

My focus was on facilitating positive attendance ensuring the learners were encouraged to attend regularly and in a timely way. Together these skills are essential for raising the timely achievement rate in Childcare. I aimed to use a range of different strategies, and evaluated their effectiveness in enhancing self motivation, time keeping and high attendance rates. This approach is known as action research, this involves the identification of a problem, reflection and an action to try and solve the problem. As found by McNiff (2000:34)

“Action research aims to find ways of improving social situations by improving personal understanding in order to take appropriate action.”

The interventions

The new strategies were designed to be reflective and personal in the hands of the learner and also confidential to their peers in the group. This differed from my normal approach of, marking the learner absent and emailing their assessor, which doesn’t seemed to get followed up. My interventions included the following:

Introducing rewards;

Rewarding those who attend every week. Such asintroducing longer dinner breaks, for those learners who have lots to do on their day off work.

Introducing contracts to be signed by both learner and employer;

To make the employers aware of the learners` attendance at college. This intervention also allowed the employer to introduce their own agreement between themselves and the learner.

Research Questions

I hoped the interventions would address the following:

1. Are learners better motivated to arrive at college when rewards are in place?

2. Are learners, particularly the previously bad attendees more willing to attend?

3, do learners need to develop independent time keeping skills?

4. Will participation in this intervention build upon the tutor-learner rapport, enabling learners to become more confident and willing to discuss problems of attendance with the tutor?

I hoped that the use of a qualitative method would allow one to seek insight into the learners` views, opinions, attitudes, motivations and aspirations. I believed that, finding out how the learners perceived college and on where their priorities lay, either in the work place or at college, was an important aspect of the research. Johnson (1995) suggests that qualitative methodologies are powerful tools for enhancing our understanding of teaching and learning, and that they have” gained increasing acceptance in recent years” (p. 4).

It was easy enough to think of the research questions I wanted to answer, as this attendance problem had been building up for some time, so I had already spoken to colleagues with more experience about it. I decided to introduce rewards for those learners who attend all week in the hope that this would be an incentive to others. I also introduced longer lunch breaks for those who attended regularly to allow the learners to get their own personal jobs done. I called a meeting with my manager to explain the problem which she was already quite familiar with and ask her if she would help me carry out these interventions by allowing me to set up a contract between employer and learner. This contract, I hoped, was going to give the employers an insight and responsibility into the learners` attendance pattern. My manager agreed this may work and asked the admin staff to work with me to design the contract. By the following week all these interventions were in place. I decided to carry the interventions out for a period of 4 weeks so there would be a true pattern of attendance emerging.


Research methodology is a structured approach to finding a solution to a problem or issue and collecting data about the changes made. ‘The aim of action research is not just to find out what is happening, but to make improvements of practice for the enhancement of the teaching and learning process’ (McNiff, 2002:18). The main point I had to remember when beginning to carry out the action research was that flexibility is important, “action research is open ended. It does not begin with a fixed hypothesis. It begins with an idea you develop” (McNiff 2002:4). This approach is an interpretive approach and the method which I used to carry out my action research. Interpretivists see research as a less straight forward approach, than those who follow a positive approach, using qualitative data to enable thoughts, beliefs and experiences to be interpreted by the researcher, in this case myself.

This research was also insider research, as I am the class teacher. I believed this to be advantageous to the research, as the learners had already built up a bond with me during lessons and therefore would hopefully open up more and be happy to share their experiences and difficulties regarding attendance whereas, an outside researcher would not have had the closeness with the learners or the understanding of the particular problem. My beliefs were confirmed to me, when I could see that the use of the questionnaire had helped me to become more aware of the learners thus helping with the interventions. An outsider researcher would not have had that time; they would have already set up the research process, and would have come in feet first, without any thoughts about the learners` background or everyday pressures.

It was also very important that I gathered suitable data. I adopted a qualitative style of data, which was soft data such as what? And why? This method enabled more in depth, richly informed answers. It also allowed me, as the researcher to look into patterns of attendance and particular beliefs and thoughts.

Methods of data collection:

Data was collected through mixed methods, as “no single research design is adequate to capture the complexity of the phenomena” (O’Brien 2005:88). By combining multiple perspectives I was more likely to get a greater validity of results, this methodological triangulation helped to determine the accuracy of the information and also allowed me to cross check the data to establish validity.


When designing the questionnaires I considered the needs and abilities of the learner group, the focus was qualitative but some learners may have found it hard to answer questions in that way due to abilities or language barriers. “If you want people to understand better than they otherwise might, provide them information in the form in which they usually experience it.” (Lincoln and Guba, 1985, p. 120). I piloted the questionnaires with my Monday group. The questionnaires worked positively, all came back with good in depth responses. Therefore I was happy to use them with my target group after they had participated in the action research. The questionnaire was, I hoped, going to help me get an insight into the learners` life, everyday pressures, which have an affect on their attendance. This proved to be quite successful with some learners raising valid points. A big surprise to me was that not one learner chose a reward in the terms of a prize. All chose an early finish for good attendees and learners who produce a good quality, quantity of work in class.

Interviews with learners (1-1)

The interviews were a helpful way of finding out the learners` perceptions of the interventions I put in place. I originally decided to conduct a structured interview, meaning that I would be in control at all times, asking the same questions in the same order for each interviewee. I believed that this would enable me to have a better understanding of the learners` perceptions in a more personalised manner and I would also get a quick, positive response. When coming to the point where I had to think and write questions for the interview guide I began to struggle and it became apparent that a pilot of the interviews would also be necessary to ensure the questions were suitable, and would gather the right sort of data (qualitative). Interview guides ensure good use of limited interview time and they help to keep interactions more focused. Again I piloted the interviews with the Monday group in a structured way as planned, it soon became noticeable that the questions I asked in the manner and order that I did, was not allowing sufficient time for a positive, in depth and truthful qualitative response from the learners. I soon realised that although a structured approach is necessary to obtain good, positive data there needs to be room for negotiation and expression of feelings. `In keeping with the flexible nature of qualitative research designs, interview guides can be modified over time to focus attention on areas of particular importance, or to exclude questions the researcher has found to be unproductive for the goals of the research`(Lofland and Lofland, 1984). Therefore I changed the structure of my interviews to a semi structured approach allowing me, as the interviewer, to be free to probe and explore within the inquiry area.

Group Discussion

I decided to hold a group discussion with the Monday group to seek insight into their feelings regarding the interviews which had just taken place. This proved very useful, with responses such as, “I didn’t get time to think, I felt intimidated due to the rushed, uniformed nature of the interview, It didn’t feel personal or friendly, I didn’t get the impression you were interested due to your quick moving on to the next question”.

Reflective journal

I kept a journal of reflection as part of my research to help me with the recording of ideas, suggestions, problems and successes, it also helped me to record any reading carried out or that needed to be furthered to aid my own learning, “becoming a successful researcher is a continual learning process in which we all make mistakes” (Dawson 2002; X).

The journal was a useful tool which recorded how effective the methods used were and ideas on how they could be improved. The journal was also used to reflect on the strategies implemented and the learners’ attitudes and beliefs and how they had changed over time.

Ethical Considerations

There are particular issues involved in action research which require an ethical code of practice, which must be drawn up between both researcher and participant. This research involved people and companies, schools, all with differing ethical backgrounds. Therefore ethical issues had to be taken into account during the implementation of the strategies, as suggested by Bell (1999).

I took into account social background and confidentiality by planning the questions to suit all abilities and race, while ensuring that all the interview and questionnaire responses were kept private from others in the group.

Coding of data

Interpreting qualitative data can lead to many problems, as there is not one set way to present the data, which therefore leaves the data harder to interpret and determine validity.

I aimed to organise and summarise all the data collected in relation to the following questions:

1, Are learners better motivated to arrive at college when rewards are in place?

2, Are learners, particularly the bad attendees, more willing to attend?

3, Do learners need to develop time keeping skills?

4, Will participation in this intervention build upon the tutor-learner rapport, enabling learners to become more confident and to discuss problems of attendance with the tutor?

As there is no one way to analyse, interpret and present data I had to decide whether to analyse the data as I was going along or leave it all until the end. I decided to analyse the data as I was going along. I used the interview as a follow up to the questionnaires so that I could explore in more detail the questions previously asked. This kept the data compact and was used as my second analysis. When analysing the questionnaire responses I began by looking for initial themes, this helped with the design of the questions to be used for the interview. After completion of both data collection methods I again looked for initial themes between the questions and the interview. I then linked the responses in the differing data collection methods and alphabetically coded the similar responses. Following stage one of the process, I clustered the data to enable emerging patterns and trends to become apparent. After looking at the patterns in stage two of the process the winnowing process took place, where I looked at and explained the negative data. I also looked at the unexpected themes. This data was not quantified. Again looking at the data collected, I researched any theory that related to the data, being aware of bias and prejudice quotes.


The main theme for this action research was an investigation into what makes learners choose not to attend college. As a teacher at college, who is passionate about the childcare area, I made the assumption that all the learners wanted to be on the course, that they had been given the right information at the enrolment, to enable them to choose the right course.

Initially I had to find out whether a reward system would have any effect on this group of learners. I used an in class questionnaire to get a quick response which may have opened up more questions. This proved very successful. The data pointed out the fact that the learners had formed a bond with each other and believed that the whole class should be able to work towards rewards not just those previously labelled as bad attendees.

Some Responses included:

“Personally I have quite bad attendance, but for valid reasons. Now my attendance has been monitored I am more aware of it and will make a conscious effort to improve it. I don’t feel that it’s fair to reward those who are bad attendees when there is a large number in the group who attend every week. So yes, I agree that the good attendees should be rewarded for good quality of work”.

“I think that all the class should be able to get a reward of an early finish whether it be for good attendance or the quality and quantity of work completed in the lesson, as I have good attendance and I work hard in the class, but good attendance has no benefit if no work is produced in the class, as happens with some”.

These postings were not exceptional and it was very pleasing to see that the group had formed bonds and there was loyalty towards each other. After analysing the first questionnaire I decided that prizes as rewards would have little effect on the learners attendance throughout the whole course.

This made me think, if the learners didn’t come to college for the short term rewards, such as getting their apprentice wage, which relies on attendance at work and college, then why do they attend college? I decided to probe further into this during the interviews.

The data from the group surveyed is dismissive of monetary gain it places almost all as employment as the main reason for attending the college apprenticeship programme.

This data was basically qualitative data which gave me an insight into the learner’s life; it had not covered the important question, the reasons for not attending college. As I have previously mentioned, college is only part of the learner’s life, and the learner may not see it as important.

To get to the centre of the problem I interviewed all the learners below 90% attendance. This amounted to 10 learners with attendance ranging between 59% to 89%. During the interviews it became apparent that most of the learner’s attendance was between 75 to 90% and they all felt that they had valid reasons. The most common were illness, holidays. It was when I interviewed the really poor attendees that I received the useful data. Two of the learners were 17 but the rest were 19+.

One learner who is 25 years old, whose attendance is 70%, when asked why she did not attend frequently said that she has a young child and has recently split from her partner. When she is working at the nursery she can take the child but when she’s at college there is no space at nursery for her child, therefore she misses college to care for her child. She pointed out that there was nothing she could do but that she constantly gets the work emailed across from her assessor and that she completes it on time to enable her to pass the course in a timely fashion.

Another learner, aged 18- says that she works at night time in a pub as the apprentice wage is so low and this is the reasoning behind her poor attendance, as she regularly gets up late then thinks that by the time she has got ready and got into college there is no point. I asked her if she worked from home these days and she said that she would work on anything her assessor had given her to do.

Both these learners as well as others in the group, queried the attendance policy as ineffective, saying that it is possible to work through the NVQ at home on their own, and if this is the only way some learners can get the work done, then why should this be a problem?

All the learners had valid reasons for not attending, when asked at the interview “What could college do to make you attend every lesson until you have completed your NVQ?” They all replied nothing; I will almost definitely have to take some days off.


The original aim of this research was to find out why learners do not attend college, put interventions in place to improve this attendance, and this hopefully may increase the timely success rates.

At the moment, after 4 weeks of the interventions being in place, the class attendance average is up to 80% which is a great improvement on last months average of 65%. At first glance it would seem that the interventions in place have had an impact on the learners. However the outcomes of the questionnaire used in the class did not point to the learners being offered a prize as an incentive to attend, although the offer of an early finish did arise as a long term reward. Some of the learners could have become disenchanted with the process of rewarding attendance with an early finish due to their struggle to get into college or the fact that they were already a good attendee but was not getting rewarded. The group of learners seemed to be aware of this and wanted to, as seen in the data collected, ensure all the group had a chance to get the reward.

There was no incentive or reward identified for some learners in the interview as being good enough to allow them to improve their attendance to 90%. After probing further with these learners I found that their lives and commitments made it to difficult. Before carrying out this research I believed that the poor attendees would be those with the young families or older parents that need help everyday but I have found this not to be true, as the younger learners who are new to the long working days have shown in my data as also poor attendees who struggle with time management. Also the young learners receive an even lesser apprenticeship amount than the mature apprentices, which in turn leads them into extra part time work meaning college becomes a lesser priority to them. The mature learners do also have a low attendance rate due to the reasons previously stated, but they tend to make contact and ask for the work to do at home, which does result in them getting an absence mark but not getting behind on their work.

These findings indicate that a more flexible attitude is needed regarding attendance for apprentices. Should electronic requests for work and the completed work sent back constitute as attendance? There is a methodology to allow contact to be logged in the form of a phone call or email as the group are classed as distance learners. Is it reasonable to expect the same attendance across the board with such a range of ages? A new policy could be put into place stating that the teacher must be emailed the night before if a learner is not going to attend then work can be sent to them, if this work is completed that day then they will receive a mark but if not they will be classed as absent, but how would I as the teacher find the time to arrange this as well as prepare the lesson and the resources. This may be an unresolved problem.

There can be no doubt that the interventions put in place have made a huge improvement on attendance. The learners, who were previously in trouble for not attending or labelled as a low achiever due to their lack of work, began to take pride in their attendance, this gave them the chance to be good at something again. The college has a retention policy which states, ` keep the learners and the achievement will follow`.It also says that, ` if you keep good attendance it will turn into retention and a high achievement rate will follow`.

I understand where this is coming from and it makes sense that if a learner attends they will complete the course successfully, but during my action research I have found that some of the learners I interviewed, due to bad attendance, were actually the ones that had nearly finished the NVQ within a good timescale. The comprehension and knowledge are the things which are taught in the classroom, therefore those with vast experiences in childcare and its legislation or with a manger that is willing to support and mentor them through the analysis, synthesis and evaluation process of the NVQ, can actually achieve without any attendance at college. These skills are at the higher end of Blooms taxonomies in the cognitive domain meaning they do not necessarily need classroom interaction and support.

The research has been successful at many levels. The attendance levels have definitely improved, whether it is due to the interventions is difficult to prove, as the learner attendance may have exceeded the last month’s average anyway without any interventions. I have gained knowledge on the types of problems learners face, enabling me to have a more sympathetic approach. I was very pleased to see that when the learners with improved attendance were acknowledged by me they were positively pleased with themselves.

What I have learnt from this research:

Short term, small rewards do not really motivate the learners for the long term.

The short term goals can be used in class for that moment, such as whoever finishes the last question quickly and quietly can go early for lunch.

All the learners value their own achievements including attendance, even those who thought and told me they did not think any reward could help them, still became proud of them when their attendance improved. I have learnt that verbally acknowledging learners will boost their confidence and in turn increase attendance rates even further. I have realised that it is important to have this intervention in place at the beginning of the programme and to ensure all learners are aware of it.

Learners who work all week as well as attending college may be more likely to miss classes. Also that mature learners with children may miss class due to their responsibilities as a mother or father. I recognise that strategies must be in place at the start of the programme to ensure those who can’t attend for valid reasons can stay on the course and not get behind.

Word count 3840


           Johnson, S.D. (1995, Sring). Will our research hold up under scrutiny?

           Journal of industrial Teacher Education, 32(3), 3-6.

Kressler, H (2003) Motivate and reward: performance appraisal and incentive systems for business success, Gordonsville, VA, USA: Palgrave Macmillan

            Lincoln, Y. S, & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalististic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA:        

            Sage   Publications, Inc

            Lofland, J., & Lofland, L. H. (1984). Analyzing social settings. Belmont, CA:

            Wadsworth Publications, Inc.

            McNiff J. (2000) Action research in organisations, Florence, KY, USA:    


McNiff, J and Whitehead,J (2002) Action research: Principles and practice 2nd Edition, London: Routledge Falmer

McNiff,J (2002) Action research for professional development: concise advice for new action researchers Third Edition

O`Brien, M (2003) “Studying individual and family development: linking theory and research” Family volume 67

Turner, G (2000) teaching young adults: A handbook for teachers in further education, Florence, KY, USA: Routledge

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