What are the main issues for attendance officers today? What strategies
can they use to address these? Victoria Franklin has been doing some
research and consulting those on the front line. In this article, she shares concerns about the attendance of our youngest children.
- The attendance of children in early years should be carefully monitored for safeguarding reasons.
- Information about the benefits of early years education should be shared with parents.
- Parents should be kept informed about their child’s attendance record.
Working across all phases of education, I am often asked for advice about how to promote and support regular attendance of children in early years settings and those of non-compulsory school age in school settings. What action should be taken when there are attendance concerns?
Addressing attendance matters with this cohort of children poses the dilemma for school staff that these children are not required by law to attend any education provision. How then, do you get the message across to parents and carers that regular attendance at this stage will benefit their child’s all-round development and give them a good start on their education journey?
Other dilemmas include how absence should be coded for the early years and non-compulsory school-age children and at what point absence should become a safeguarding issue. Starting from a premise that parents and carers see a benefit for their child in taking a place at an early years setting, it is that starting point that should be harnessed and built on.
One of the ways this can be done is to share information and knowledge about the evidence linked to the benefits for children of attending early years provision. This information could be shared as part of a welcome letter, as an accompanying leaflet or handout and/or as a poster displayed around the site (see the toolkit Handout – Early years attendance benefits information).
Settings should have an early years attendance policy together with clear expectations of both staff and parents. The policy should reference how the setting will address any concerns about attendance or time keeping and how this links with safeguarding. Procedures should be in place for recording and monitoring attendance that mirror procedures for compulsory school-age children, so ensuring that safeguarding requirements are met.
Registers should be kept as well as a record of times of arrival and departure. Rigorous weekly monitoring of this information will enable staff to identify and pick up on concerns at an early stage. Staff should be made aware of the importance of regular attendance and time keeping and that if this is not the case, this could be an indicator of some underlying issues that may amount to the child being vulnerable.
Children already identified with additional needs or vulnerability should be closely monitored for signs of a deteriorating situation. It is important that a reason for absence or late arrival should always be sought from a parent or carer so that patterns can be picked up quickly.
If the child has an older sibling in another setting, it would be useful to share information. A step process to address concerns should be taken. This might be an initial conversation with a keyworker followed by a period of monitoring. If concerns continue, a meeting with the phase leader or deputy headteacher should be arranged and actions agreed to work on improvement. Regular non-attendance can result in a place and /or funding being withdrawn in certain instances.
It is important not to make assumptions that parents and carers are well informed when their children join a school setting. When meeting parents and carers whose children are starting Reception, staff often report that attendance and time keeping matters were not high profile or raised with them where there were concerns.
It is important to get as much information as possible about attendance patterns from the early years setting, as this may be an area for discussion with the parents/carer. It is advisable to share information with them about the benefits of regular attendance and consolidate this in policy and practice.
Many schools have information sessions for new parents and carers to discuss how the school works, what the children will learn and how this will happen. A dedicated timeslot in this session about attendance matters can make things clear from the start and give new parents and carers an opportunity to ask any questions. I have developed a presentation for this purpose that has been shown in many schools to aid such discussions.
Two important messages to give parents and carers are as follows:
- Early stages of education matter greatly when it comes to putting in place the foundations on which to build future learning.
- Learning takes many forms and children are still learning when they are playing.
A misunderstanding about these facts can lead some parents and carers to undervalue the importance of regular attendance during these early years.
Keep parents informed
It is important to share regular information with all parents and carers about their child’s attendance. This should be a copy of the attendance record with a comment regarding days of learning completed or missed. Information presented in this way can make more sense than information given as a percentage or session.
As children go through the Reception year, most will turn five years old and become of compulsory school age. Parents and carers need to be reminded that there is a legal responsibility to ensure regular attendance at school from the term after which the child has their fifth birthday and that the Department for Education collects and publishes absence rates for this age group.
When there is absence
Attendance concerns in Reception should be addressed and not dismissed because a child is not yet of compulsory school age. A step approach should be taken with members of staff holding different responsibilities for interventions.
Meetings with outside agencies may also be appropriate in certain cases. However, local authority education welfare officers may not be able to meet this need due to their remit of working with compulsory school-age children to ensure regular attendance.
The coding issue
This is a difficult area for early years provision and school settings to manage in relation to children who are not of compulsory school age. Early years/pre-school absence rates and reasons for absence are not collected by the Department for Education. However, local authorities collect this data to match against allocated funding, and settings should let local authorities know who is not attending or who stops attending.
In Reception, a child cannot have an unauthorised absence as they are not required by law to attend until the term after which they turn five. However, headteachers feel uneasy about authorising absence for this group as it sets a precedent. Instead, they will often default to using the range of unauthorised codes used across the school to fall in line with whole-school practice.
This has led to challenges by parents and carers in some instances. There is also a concern that authorising all absence in Reception may lead to possible safeguarding concerns being overlooked. These are often picked up through looking at unauthorised absence. The Department for Education collects overall absence rates for this age group but does not collect reasons for absence. Discussion continues with the Department regarding this matter.
From Reception to Year 1
By the time Reception children and parents/carers are ready for the transition to Year 1, the good attendance message should be embedded throughout the school culture. Again, transition sessions are useful opportunities to remind parents of the importance of regular attendance, the link between attendance and attainment and their legal responsibilities.
Always reassure parents and carers that issues with attendance addressed early on are more likely to be overcome and ensure their child has access to all educational opportunities.
Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice: