School children in classroom

School absences tackled by government programmes

The government has announced new projects that will be aimed at driving up attendance rates in schools, with the overall goal of improving the attainment and welfare of pupils.

This will be done by expanding the number of Attendance Hubs, as well as expanding the Attendance Mentors programme in areas of the country that currently have the highest levels of pupil absences. The Attendance Hubs programme was a sector let project that began with a trial at Northern Education Trust’s North Shore Academy. This saw other schools provided with techniques, resources, and advice on how they can improve their attendance. These will start supporting other schools from June, before beginning work with children and families in new areas in September. This expansion will help to determine whether the programme is a good enough approach to roll out around the country.

Expansion of the programme will bring nine new attendance hub leads, as they look to support up to 600 primary, secondary, and alternative provision schools across England with their attendance. This will be done through the sharing of best practice and practical resources, with one example being the potential for the rolling out of automatic text messaging to parents whose children have not attended school. Data could also be used to identify children that are at risk of poor attendance, so that staff members can intervene early.

The measures introduced by the government also see the expansion of the attendance mentors programme, which is delivered by children’s charity Bernardo’s. This programme will involve trained mentors working directly with 1,665 children who are severely and persistently absent and their families. This will be rolled out across Knowsley, Doncaster, Stoke-on-Trent and Salford. The goal of this will be to understand and overcome the barriers that are preventing good attendance, and subsequently supporting children back into school.

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, said:

“We know that the best place for children to learn is in the classroom, and the vast majority of children are currently in school and learning.

“Though pupil attendance is continuing to recover, the pandemic has still had a real impact on pupil absence in school.

“That is why we’re expanding some of our most important attendance measures today – including the attendance hubs and mentoring programmes, to ensure children have the best chance of receiving a high-quality education.

Building on existing attendance strategies introduced by the government, these programmes will work with measures including:

  • New expectations set out in guidance for schools, trusts, and local authorities.
  • A national attendance data dashboard providing more up-to-date attendance data.
  • The work of the national Attendance Action Alliance.

The government is also requesting evidence on children that are missing out on education, whether that be by missing school or not being suitably home educated. This evidence, that can be provided by local authorities, schools, and other agencies, will help the Department for Education to identify the best practices whilst also being able to inform future policy. Evidence can be sent until the 20th July.

Rob Tarn, Northern Education Trust’s CEO, said:

“It has been wonderful to see the positive professional conversations generated following the creation of the North Shore attendance hub. Securing better attendance always has been, and continues to be, a day-to-day challenge for schools across the country.

“The increase in the number of attendance hubs and the number of schools involved in collaborative work will mean that many organisations need no longer feel alone and will have the ability to share their best practice whist receiving ideas from others.”

The Local Government has also responded to the plans announced, with Councillor Louise Gittins, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, saying:

“Good attendance at school plays a vital role in children’s development and for their well-being, and it is positive government has set out measures to improve this.

“However, we have long raised with government that councils lack the powers to ensure that children who are missing school don’t slip through the net.

“Despite having a legal duty to ensure a school place for every child, councils do not have the ability to direct academies to accept pupils, even if they are the most appropriate school for a pupil.

“Under the current arrangements, children not in school are invisible to councils and the services that keep them safe. This is why it is vital the Government legislates for a register of children who are not in school, combined with powers for councils to meet face-to-face with children.”

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