Attendance officers can sometimes feel as though they are working in isolation. However, the work they do is crucial and requires continuous updating of knowledge and information. Our star author, Victoria Franklin, offers her suggestions for support.
- The attendance officer needs to check that they are working according to the brief of the organisation.
- Local, national and even international networks can be a very useful source of support, advice and information.
- It is important to continue your own professional training through either internal or external sources.
My career in school attendance work has spanned over 30 years. It has been driven by a passion for all matters related to school attendance and the impact of getting this right on the lives and futures of all young people, especially those that are on the margins of education or deemed vulnerable for a number of reasons.
Reflecting on what has enabled me to sustain the passion and drive throughout my career, I think two key elements have been present from the beginning: support, and development opportunities. Unpicking these and defining what is most useful may help other practitioners think about how they can secure these for themselves.
Support can come from many sources. It’s important to consider the context of your work: Is the remit of your work supported by the organisation? In other words, is the work you undertake what the organisation expects you to be doing?
Often colleagues can feel unsupported due to lack of clarity of expectation and lack of understanding by senior colleagues of what work is actually being carried out. To overcome this, regular supervision from a line manager is essential. This provides an opportunity for both professionals to check their work against agreed priorities. Attendance officers should be given clear direction about how their work contributes to the overall aims of the organisation.
For example, if the role is school based, how do the daily tasks performed fit into the school development plan and contribute to raising attendance? If the attendance officer is based in a local authority, does the work undertaken meet the needs of the local authority service plan? Clarity of role and the relevance of the work enables staff to feel confident and supported.
Support from colleagues
The role of attendance officer can be isolating, often working as sole practitioners in a school, or going it alone in the community as part of a local authority team. Professional networks can support staff to overcome this isolation and offer a platform to share common concerns as well as good practice.
Networks have become even more important during the pandemic with the change to home working. Developing networks can take a variety of forms including online forums, physical meetings, or shared practice webinars. They can be local or national, or even international – a recent development has been the formation of an international network.
Local and national support
Local networks can offer quick practice solutions and a shared understanding of contextual issues. National networks, such as professional associations, have a wider remit and represent the collective voice of all those working in attendance. One such organisation is the National Association for Support Workers in Education (NASWE).
The structure of this type of network provides links with other national organisations with strong remits relating to attendance work, including the Department for Education where NASWE has representation on consultative and reference groups. This type of representation ensures issues on the ground are relayed to policy makers.
In 2019 an international network for school attendance was set up by colleagues from the Netherlands, Sweden and America (INSA). The founders reached out to several nations and I was asked to be one of the representatives for England. This network offers opportunities to find out what is happening in the school attendance world elsewhere, collaborate with research projects, attend international conferences, and share practice ideas.
In the first wave of the pandemic when schools were only open to vulnerable and key worker students in England, it was extremely useful and reassuring to hear how other countries around the world were mobilising resources to ensure that children were safe and educated.
During this time, professional associations and local authorities developed new ways of reaching colleagues, with regular online or telephone drop-ins and webinars for discussion, as well as advising on changes in practice and approach to ensure compliance with Department for Education and Public Health England guidance documents. These were so successful that they have been adopted as a continuing feature of the support offered.
Training and continuing professional development
There is currently no single, nationally recognised qualification for attendance officers, and colleagues often find themselves learning ’on the job’, while others have a range of related professional qualifications.
No matter how you have arrived in the role, training and continuing professional development are vital for yourself and for ensuring that you deliver the best possible service. There may be opportunities to take part in internal and external training, and both have important roles to play.
This can often be knowledge-based, with an organisation cascading new pieces of policy or practice down to colleagues and imparting information.
This can often offer a more skills-based, practical experience where colleagues can return to their role and apply what they have learned. In the last few years, several training companies have specialised in school attendance matters, offering conferences and online training with resources.
Some of these courses are accredited, and others are not. Some local authorities also offer training around key statutory areas of work:
- children missing education
- child employment
- the law around school attendance (e.g. use of penalty notices and prosecution)
These really are essential elements to be trained in for the role of attendance officer. If you are new to the role, this should be part of a good induction; if you are experienced, a refresher is always useful.
Updating your knowledge
Keeping up-to-date with current issues and concerns brings perspective and context to your work, deepens your subject knowledge and develops expertise. It is important to take responsibility for your own continuous professional development and to use your time to explore what’s out there. My suggestions are:
- Look at the BBC News website – Education section.
- Regularly check the DfE/Ofsted website.
- Set up alerts from www.gov.uk.
- Search the internet by topic.
- If your school has access to Governor Hub, education news feeds happen daily from many sources, which you should check.
- Read the newspapers.
Remember to reflect often on how important your role is in ensuring that children are safe and accessing education, and that there is support and training to develop your very worthwhile career in school attendance.
Network links to NASWE and INSA:
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice: