Attendance in the spotlight

0

The importance of attendance is being discussed in the world of education at the moment. There is activity across a range of organisations through research and consultations. Our star author, Joanne Sierzega, highlights the key reports and considers how we can put their messages into practice.

Summary

  • The Attendance Alliance recognises the importance of multi-agency working in improving attendance.
  • Ofsted highlights the key role of effective communication when it comes to best practice in attendance management.
  • The Children’s Commissioner’s report has highlighted discrepancies in the way attendance is managed.
  • Attendance is a key feature of the government’s White Paper.

Across the country, pupils’ attendance at school has come sharply into focus. This focus is not just on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had, but also on those children missing significant amounts of education, pupils with 10% or more absence (persistent absence) and, even more concerning, those with 50% or more absence (a new category – severely absent).

In this article we consider the implications of:

  • the Attendance Alliance
  • Ofsted research
  • the Children’s Commissioner’s report
  • the government’s White Paper.

All of these are accompanied by key messages which we can expect to have a profound impact on our practice.

The Attendance Alliance

There has been a recognition that improving the attendance of pupils with the poorest attendance cannot be solely the responsibility of schools, but will need a multi-agency response as their non-attendance is a symptom of many complex causes.

At the end of last year, highlighting the importance the government was placing on school attendance, the Secretary of State for Education launched the Attendance Alliance: a group of national leaders from a range of organisations coming together with the single aim of raising levels of attendance.

The first meeting of the Alliance was in December 2021, with the DfE website stating that it will be meeting once a month until the end of July 2022. Organisations and areas represented include schools and MATs, local authorities, parents’ groups, the Children’s Commissioner, social work, mental health, GPs, police, Ofsted and the NSPCC. The focus of this group is to address the wider underlying causes of children not being in school.

Putting it into practice

A frustration that I have often heard from school attendance leads, and have experienced in practice, is the notion from other services that this is ‘an attendance problem’. The reality is that non-attendance is a symptom of, or direct outcome of, some other type of need. For example, a health need, a housing need, parenting capacity, parental ill health, and so the list goes on.

It’s frustrating when attendance isn’t given enough emphasis in multi-agency plans and multi-agency working. This is a good time to reflect on how you can raise awareness of the importance of attendance in your multi-agency networks and ensure that the right services are in place, and that there is a focus on working together to improve attendance in individual children’s multi-agency plans.

Ofsted research

On 7 February 2022 Ofsted published a report entitled Securing good attendance and tackling persistent absence. Evidence was gathered from recent inspections, surveys, focus groups and interviews with inspectors and school leaders. The report gathers information on the diverse range of issues impacting on pupil attendance and considers how some schools manage to improve attendance.

The report identifies that schools which improve attendance from a low baseline have the same key components in their approach.

Many of these components are not new thinking about improving attendance. Many also feature in the DfE document Improving school attendance: Support for schools and local authorities (updated April 2022) and would be recognised as best practice by those specialists working in the field of attendance.

Where this report differs is that it really focuses on the importance of communication and identifies that schools which are successful in improving attendance take the time to understand the reasons for absence/non-attendance, and work systematically to ensure that any barriers to attendance are removed.

Putting it into practice

One of the takeaways in this report for me is that there is an emphasis on and an understanding of the importance of listening to parents and pupils to understand the reasons for non-attendance. The document refers to the approach of: ‘listen, understand, empathise and support – but do not tolerate’.

This is something that those schools which improve attendance do well. I believe that developing clear models of communication is an area schools need to spend more time on and include in staff training and development for teaching and non-teaching staff.

To support your thinking around this I have included in the Toolkit a series of questions about communication and attendance in your school, based on the findings in this report.

Children’s Commissioner

On 9 March 2022 the Children’s Commissioner’s Office published its interim findings from its attendance audit. The report, entitled Where are England’s children? focuses on the outcomes of surveys sent to 145 local authorities (LAs). It is part of a larger piece of work and the full report and findings are expected in the spring.

The aim of the surveys was to establish how well LAs can meet their duties under the Education Act 1996 to make arrangements to identify children who are not receiving an education at school or otherwise. It looked at data from these surveys in relation to the:

  • number of pupils in LA maintained schools and academies
  • number of children in independent schools
  • school absence
  • number of children electively home educated (EHE)
  • number of children missing education (CME).

The report identified that:

“We do not have an accurate real-time figure of how many children there are in England, nor where they are – let alone the number of children not receiving education.” (Children’s Commissioner, March 2022)

The report goes on to suggest four potential solutions to improve school attendance.

Putting it into practice

Below are two potential solutions that may be of interest to attendance leads that haven’t been touched upon in the first two sections of this article.

  • A focus on school data collection and how data collected by schools is shared and used, moving towards real-time data sharing. There is a DfE pilot on this already underway, with schools having been asked to sign up to a trial of real-time data being collected from their registers.
  • Attendance codes – the report identified inconsistencies in how different schools use absence codes, specifically referencing schools’ use of the B and X codes. At the time of writing the DfE guidance has been updated and no longer requires schools to use the X code for absences due directly to Covid legislation or guidance. The report suggests there may be a need to develop a deeper level of understanding of the way in which attendance code policies are applied on a school level.

The White Paper

On 28 March 2022 the government published the White Paper Opportunity for all: Strong schools with great teachers for your child. A White Paper is a policy document that sets out the government’s proposals for law making, and this one sets out proposed reforms to the education system. Attendance is a key feature of this White Paper and if these elements pass into legislation there will be significant changes in current attendance legislation, guidance, practice and procedures.

The White Paper contains following proposals:

  • Subject to the results of the DfE February consultation, the government will introduce new legislation to create new statutory guidance on attendance, including a requirement for every school to publish a clear attendance policy.
  • There will be steps to make it easier for schools to access best practice on attendance, with the development of off-the-shelf attendance interventions for schools and the introduction of new voluntary standards for attendance professionals.
  • To support schools and LAs in identifying attendance patterns quickly and easily and to allow for real-time data, the White Paper promises a new national data solution and legislation to modernise the rules on recording attendance.
  • To introduce legislation that allows for a register for children not in school to be established.
  • Subject to the outcome of the DfE February consultation, there will be new statutory expectations of LA attendance services. Schools and LAs will be required to work closely with LA attendance services to re-engage children who are severely absent (with an absence level of 50% or more).

It goes without saying that there is huge potential for change based upon this White Paper. It will be essential to make sure that attendance leads are following developments, accessing information and training on legislation, local protocols and procedures.

Further information

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Joanne Sierzega worked for almost 16 years in local authority education welfare. Since then she has established CSAWS (Central School Attendance and Welfare Services Ltd) with two partners. CSAWS comprises a team of education welfare officers who are committed to achieving better outcomes for children by securing regular attendance at school.

Share this post:

About Author

Joanne Sierzega

Joanne Sierzega worked for almost 16 years in local authority education welfare. Since then she has established CSAWS (Central School Attendance and Welfare Services Ltd) with two partners. CSAWS comprises a team of education welfare officers who are committed to achieving better outcomes for children by securing regular attendance at school.

Comments are closed.