Multi-academy trusts are increasing in number and size. This presents some new opportunities for those leading on attendance. Sara Griffiths provides five cornerstones for those working as attendance lead across organisations.
- Your MAT attendance strategy should link to the strategic development and action plan.
- Develop a training programme that targets support where it is needed.
- Keep on top of the data and make sure that governance is kept informed .
Gavin Williamson’s April 2021 speech to the Confederation of School Trusts stated that: ‘The government’s vision is for every school to be part of a family of schools in a strong multi-academy trust.’
As academisation progresses and multi-academy trusts (MATs) increase in size, new roles are developing which support practice across a whole MAT. What does it mean to be the attendance lead?
Smaller MATs may ask the lead to hold a mix of strategic and operational roles, while larger MATs may have a stand-alone role or post holders who may have other responsibilities like safeguarding, behaviour, or teaching. The role will be much more challenging if the MAT covers a number of different local authorities (LAs).
This article concentrates on strategic elements of the role. This should support best practice, develop a consistent approach and build strong systems and teams. Kotter’s ‘8-Step Process for Leading Change’ stresses the importance of the ‘guiding coalition’ to deliver change. ‘Leadership is about mobilizing a group of people to jump into a better future.’ Identify your guiding coalition to help deliver your vision.
How do you make that vision reality? Lay the cornerstones below and you and your team will make it happen.
Write your MAT attendance strategy
This must link with the MAT strategic development and action plan. It should also integrate with other MAT strategies such as SEND, safeguarding, mental health and raising achievement, which should explicitly reference raising attendance as an aim. Attendance is everyone’s responsibility.
Your data, skills audit and academy attendance audits will help to identify the key areas of concern. Do these relate to particular academies, phases or cohorts of pupils? Compare trends and benchmark against DfE releases.
Identify and work within the cultural approach to attendance management of your MAT. Will your MAT provide centralised training for staff in approaches such as restorative practice and family support? If so, you may want to lay down criteria around work that needs to happen before considering legal action. Your proposed goals, outcomes and outputs need to be backed by an action plan which you will be leading.
Support best practice
Supporting operational staff to develop practice is crucial. Often, attendance staff have no previous experience or training. You need to build a confident team and ensure that practice is legal and safe – we know that good attendance management safeguards pupils.
Audit staff levels of expertise and identify training gaps which will help you to develop a training programme and identify where targeted support is needed. The following have worked for MATs:
- regular drop-ins for attendance leads to provide guidance, share best practice and create support networks (the pandemic has shown that these can be delivered very well remotely)
- a dedicated website area to include model policies, practical tools such as attendance trackers, data management advice, self-evaluation tools and Ofsted guidance
- pre- and post-Ofsted support
- training programmes – a basic module for all staff, an intermediate level for attendance leads and a leadership module for senior leaders
- developing a network of system leaders who can support and mentor if your MAT is big or covers a wide geographic spread
- asking your academies to self-evaluate with an agreed tool and collating the results
- ensuring consistent recording of attendance casework on an agreed system
- providing guidance on reporting from your MIS
- a dedicated ‘attendance@’ email address which can be checked by named people if you’re not around for any reason.
Develop an offer
Be clear about what support your academies can expect. A useful framework might be:
- Universal: use the best practice suggestions outlined above for all academies.
- Targeted: when attendance has been raised as a cause for concern, for example, due to Ofsted inspections, safeguarding incidents or concerning data. Support might include an in-depth audit and an individual action plan, targeted staff support or a one-off training session.
- Intensive: when safeguarding concerns have been raised in relation to attendance, there are special measures or there is very low attendance. Support might include regular on-site visits, bespoke training and continuous monitoring of agreed action plans.
Report to the MAT
You will be reporting to the MAT board of trustees at agreed intervals on a MAT template that will include:
- update on your action plan
- data analysis (see ‘Manage your data’ below)
- risks to delivery, which might include resourcing (financial and staffing)
- the identification of any academies causing significant concern
- proposed solutions and any financial implications of these
- issues on which you want a decision.
It’s also important to make sure that governors know how to challenge and support their academies. Offer an annual training session for Chairs of Governors and any governors with a lead role on attendance. This is not a statutory requirement, but responsibility is sometimes given to the safeguarding governor or delegated elsewhere. Naming a responsible individual adds extra scrutiny. Governors find checklists and prompts helpful. If there isn’t a standard attendance report for governors in your MAT, develop one.
Manage your data
Review and check data regularly. How frequently you do this will depend on the size of your MAT, but it should be half-termly at least. Always explain data clearly – not everyone understands it as well as the attendance lead!
As a minimum, make sure that you:
- compare your MAT data with national data over a three-year period using the DfE dataset as your benchmark, including coding and cohort reports
- identify and monitor MAT-wide trends and take corrective actions
- monitor the use of all codes, not just absence codes – high use of B and D codes is concerning
- monitor pupil movement levels
- monitor progress towards any attendance targets set centrally or by the academy
- identify academies of concern where attendance is decreasing, persistent absence (PA) is increasing or there is no progress.
Most importantly, look after yourself. Make sure you are not trying to deliver more than is possible. Keep your professional development going, join networks and professional organisations and seek support from others with similar roles. It’s a great job!
- ‘Education Secretary Speech to the Confederation of School Trusts’, DfE, April 2021: https://bit.ly/3AtvYv1
- ‘The 8-Step Process for Leading Change’, John Kotter, Kotter Inc website: https://bit.ly/Kotter-8Steps
Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice: