Four university experts use Artificial Intelligence to discover that children don't like going to school on Mondays in Milton Keynes

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Experts from a university's Institute of AI analysed an MK primary school to identify patterns in children who were frequently absent.

The researchers at De Montfort University Leicester studied attendance data using AI models.

And they say artificial intelligence is the way forward to improve pupil attendance at all schools.

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The experts found Monday morning was the most common time for absenteeism at the school, with potential reasons including separation anxiety, taking extended weekend breaks and a lack of motivation to attend school after time off.

Mondays is the worst day for absencesMondays is the worst day for absences
Mondays is the worst day for absences

To improve attendance, the researchers developed a two-pronged approach.

Firstly, they increased the frequency and value of rewards given for full attendance, holding monthly raffles with prizes for those children who had not missed a day of school during that month.

Secondly, they introduced a ‘Monday Matters’ initiative, giving pupils fun activities to look forward to on their first day back after the weekend.

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Thanks to these measures, Willen Primary achieved the required national average attendance of 96 per cent for the first time in four years. They also saw a huge improvement in persistent absenteeism, which improved by more than 55 per cent compared with a year ago.

Dr Raymond Moodley, a visiting researcher at De Montfort's Institute of AI, was leading the project along with his colleagues Professor Francisco Chiclana, Dr Fabio Caraffini, and Dr Mario Gongora.

Dr Moodley said: “By using AI, we were able to pinpoint the problem areas for attendance at Willen Primary School, which in this case was Monday mornings.

“One of the key changes we wanted to make was to increase the incentives on offer for pupils who have a 100 per cent attendance record over a shorter time frame. Schools typically tend to reward children on an ‘all or nothing’ basis by only recognising pupils who have full attendance for the entire year.

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“However, our approach sets shorter-term goals for the children which makes it more achievable, and if they fail to achieve full attendance in one month, then they can always try again the following month.”

Pupils that are persistently absent are typically shown to have the weakest performance at school. Persistent absenteeism is also higher for those children that receive free school meals.

Carrie Matthews, headteacher at Willen Primary School, said: “The novel approach provided by the team at the Institute of AI allowed us to improve our understanding of our attendance and put impactful plans in place to reduce absenteeism. The results of our collaboration have been fantastic!”

Dr Moodley and his fellow researchers are now developing an easy-to-use AI-enabled absenteeism diagnostic tool that will eventually be available for schools across the UK to download.

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Schools will be able to upload their own attendance data from their attendance recording systems and gain insights into their attendance using the AI models.

“Attendance is just one parameter measured by Ofsted when it comes to a school’s overall performance,” said Dr Moodley.

“We also want to look at other factors that impact pupil performance and outcomes in later life. These include motivations for choosing subjects – particularly girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) – as well as behavioural management, and optimising the learning environment (classroom layout, timetable design etc.)

“AI is tremendously powerful, and we want to harness this power to maximise the overall performance of every child in every school.”

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Dr Moodley and his colleagues, who are members of a research interest group called RiSE (Research in Societal Enhancement), are currently engaged in a number of AI-led projects in areas including crime prevention, agricultural sustainability, alternative solutions to managing pandemics, and medicine.

For more information about the Institute of AI at De Montfort University visit here