Preparing for the new school year

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As this academic year draws to a close, what will schools need to have in place for the 2022–23 cohort? Victoria Franklin outlines the DfE’s plans and provides some practical advice to get you off to the best start in September.

Summary

  • The DfE is addressing the issue of absence rates following the past two years of disruption.
  • Approaches to attendance vary across settings and regions, and new guidance and policy aims to address this.
  • Reviewing and highlighting your school attendance policy is a key action you can take in readiness for the government drive to improve attendance.

As this academic year draws to a close, we can reflect on the fact that this is the first time for two years that most education settings have remained fully open without periods of enforced closure. Despite this, the impact of Covid-19 has still been felt widely, with absence rates among pupils and staff still causing disruption to learning.

Rates of attendance across all settings have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, presenting big challenges for attendance practitioners in schools/trusts and local authorities, and for government. In an earlier issue, I referenced some of the wider government responses ensuring that school attendance is maintained as a high national priority, including being at the core of the government White Paper.

In this article, we will be considering proposed updated guidance for schools which will be published by the DfE in readiness for the new academic year and will become statutory as soon as time allows. The guidance is not only for schools but for trusts and local authorities too. It followed a period of consultation with all stakeholders at the beginning of 2022.

The consultation

The consultation sought views on the following proposals:

  • that all schools are required to have an attendance policy, and have regard to statutory guidance on the expectations of schools, academy trusts and governing bodies of maintained schools
  • guidance on the expectations of local authority attendance services
  • a national framework for attendance legal intervention
  • bringing the rules for granting leaves of absence in academies in line with other state-funded schools.

See ‘Further information’ for a link to the original consultation paper.

The rationale for updated guidance

Feedback from stakeholders pre and post pandemic gave a disjointed picture of attendance management across the country at all levels; this in turn led to inconsistent support and services to children and families where attendance was problematic. Common issues of management arose and needed to be addressed.

Clear expectations are laid out in the guidance and will be required to be met. The guidance is informed partly by best practice shared from settings around the country about what works most effectively to improve attendance. The DfE has run a series of best practice webinars this year to support schools and practitioners to improve and manage attendance. 

Ofsted has also published a short research and analysis report identifying best practice through inspection and discussion with leaders, reinforcing key elements that should be in place to drive attendance improvement. I believe the intent and impact of this guidance will support practitioners to address the challenges, and to shape and increase support for children and families to focus on attendance improvement going forward.

Expectations for schools

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on proposal one, schools. The research and analysis report advises that:

  • all schools should have a published policy on attendance management and improvement and that this should be reviewed and published regularly
  • all schools will have regard to new statutory guidance on attendance management and improvement
  • academy trusts and governing bodies will have regard to new statutory guidance on attendance management and improvement.

At the time of writing we are not aware of the full details behind each expectation, but as referenced earlier they will be modelled on best practice and what has been shown to be most effective.

Statutory guidance

The expectation and requirement of a published policy raises the status of attendance and places accountability for attendance management and improvement with the governing body and trust management as well as individual school leaders. Statutory guidance will provide a clear framework for all practitioners to build robust systems and procedures using an evidence base of effectiveness. It will ensure that these things are in place for all schools rather than the disparate picture that exists now.

Next steps

With the government’s intentions in mind, what steps should you be taking as a school?

Attendance policy

Review/update/rewrite your attendance policy before the start of the new academic year. The policy should reflect key messages about the importance of regular attendance and what the school is doing to promote and raise attendance for all students.

It should include evidence of how the school ensures that attendance is everybody’s business through a whole-school approach and the high expectations it has for attendance of all students. There should be a named member of staff responsible for attendance from the senior leadership and the pastoral team.

Use the policy review to critically examine each element of the policy:

  • Does the school really have a robust whole-school approach?
  • Does it work in practice?
  • Are there gaps/areas of weakness?
  • How does the policy reflect management of different types of absence, particularly in relation to persistent absence and severe absence?

You might appoint an attendance link governor to challenge and support this piece of work.

Intervention

Maintain the rhetoric and emphasis of ‘attendance management and improvement‘ to review systems and procedures. This is especially relevant to the use of data to analyse key areas for intervention at both a strategic and operational level to ensure best use of resources and the most effective practice.

Evaluate internal procedures and interventions against effectiveness and outcomes, ensuring that a staged/step/escalation process is in place, including the rigorous following up of absence.

External services

Evaluate the interface between internal and external procedures. With new expectations placed on LA attendance services, ensure that these are supporting improvement of attendance.

A shared approach

Communicate clearly with all stakeholders – parents, carers and students and the whole school community – the need for change and how they can help the school achieve the high expectations set.

This article is a snapshot of part of the new landscape to manage and improve attendance in England. Attendance practitioners have an opportunity to embrace the guidance to really make a difference and ensure that it is implemented robustly to improve attendance for all children.

Further information

  • DfE consultation, School attendance: Improving consistency of support (closed 28 February 2022): https://bit.ly/3vbOAOn
  • Securing good attendance and tackling persistent absence, Ofsted, February 2022: https://bit.ly/3txyxcV
  • Improving attendance: Good practice for schools and multi-academy trusts, DfE, March 2022: https://bit.ly/3LSlWZl

Toolkit

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

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About Author

Victoria Franklin

Victoria Franklin is a qualified social worker with more than 25 years’ experience working in education settings. She is currently a senior education welfare consultant working across all phases of education. Victoria is the President of the National Association of Support Workers in Education (NASWE) and delivers national training on a wide range of attendance matters. Victoriafranklin4@virginmedia.com

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