Attending to attendance

This week has been my first as Chair of the Educational Achievement Policy Committee and I have been reflecting on the busy education landscape ahead as children and young people start the new school term. In the past six months alone we have had a white paper and green paper land, all whilst education settings are rightly focussing on recovery. With the schools white paper we are now seeing some of the reforms begin to be implemented. There is much to digest in the paper with significant implications for local authorities, but I wanted to use this blog to focus on attendance.

The schools white paper sets a clear ambition for local education systems to work together to improve children’s attendance at school and to work in a more integrated way to support those children who are missing more than half of their school sessions. We know that attendance is key to ensuring children meet their potential – even the best teachers cannot deliver effective progress if a child is persistently absent. Statistics show that persistent absentees are less likely to achieve their full potential and can affect GCSE grades as well as a child’s prospects. Beyond persistent absenteeism, an acceptable level of attendance is hard to define. Ninety percent, for example, may appear good but, in reality, that child will miss half a school day each week - nearly 4 school weeks and 80 lessons!

In addition to the impact on attainment, schools are also the eyes and ears of the safeguarding system and, despite not formally included as a statutory partner in new multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, they are, for most families, the vital universal front line for safeguarding. When children are not regularly attending, they become less visible to professionals and the risk of exposure to hidden harm is escalated. Children who are persistently absent and not accessing education are at significant risk of being victims of harm, exploitation, or radicalisation, and becoming NEET (not in education, employment, or training) later in life.

These two factors – safeguarding and maximising potential - combine to cement the key role local authorities have for the oversight of persistent absence. Our partnership with schools, and other essential services, such as speech and language therapy, mental health providers and community support groups enables wrap around support to be offered to children and families to enable them to access learning well, but I also believe we must consider more forensically the causes of non-attendance to ensure we deliver the right response and support. This is especially important as we are seeing absences rise following the pandemic and the cost of living crisis is already falling heaviest on our most vulnerable; we know children eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are more likely to be persistently absent than those not in receipt of FSM.

By recognising the need for frontline workers to come together with education colleagues to raise the profile of education, education support and attendance as part of their core work with children and families, we must adopt an ‘attendance is everyone’s business’ mindset. Children’s Services teams must form good relationships with education colleagues and have opportunities to network and collaborate. Social workers must ensure attendance and the root causes behind low attendance are always on the agenda, not just in education meetings, and all professionals should be trained and supported to ask key questions which further their knowledge and understanding of the educational outcomes. In doing this we will support not only academic gains but also maximise the protective factors our education system provides.

And finally, to all those ADCS members who are not yet signed-up to one of the six national policy committees, I encourage you to get involved. They offer a great opportunity for learning as well as a chance to influence the national policy agenda, but then I am slightly biased.

Tags assigned to this article:

Related Blog Articles