The DfE has laid out the new challenge for school attendance by further raising the level at which a child is deemed persistently absent.
From September 2015 persistent absence (PA) data will include all pupils whose attendance is 90% or less. The DfE has already seen a steady reduction in absence through previous measures focusing on PA and absence and is determined to further improve school attendance and raise standards. PA will be assessed on a cumulative basis so a pupil can come in and out of the category but in real terms, a child or young person who misses 19 or more days over a full academic year will be classed as persistently absent. Pupils taking unauthorised leave of absence early in the year could be categorised as persistently absent well into half term five but have perfect attendance from their return date onwards.
The DfE will publish PA rates at both 15% and 10% for the current academic year enabling schools and academies to begin to monitor and track data into the academic year 2015 – 2016. The statistical first release for autumn term 2014, was published on Thursday. Read it here.
How to get ready for changes to persistent absence
Get your message across
Labels aside, the message that needs to be sent home to parents is the detrimental effect that absence has on their child’s educational progress and attainment. Over a five year period a child whose attendance is at 90%, will miss a half of a school year; that’s a lot of lost education.
Establish a whole school approach
To improve and maintain good attendance successfully, a whole school or academy approach is vital, with key messages being shared by all staff on a daily basis. Where attendance data is scrutinised, patterns identified and a clear structure is in place to plan ahead and support families, schools and academies are going to be well prepared to address the challenge ahead. Take a whole school and pupil level view: at what times of the year does attendance deteriorate? Why and what could be put in place to address this the following year? Do you know the characteristics of your persistently absent pupils? How can you best meet their needs?
Parents play an essential role in supporting attendance and the changes to PA need to be shared with them this summer term. This can be disseminated in a school newsletter or a whole school letter home. By taking opportunities to let parents know about the importance of attendance and the actions that school may take to address concerns, messages about consistency, expectations and consequences can be embedded. Every school or academy needs a readily available and up-to-date attendance policy laying this out in full; having a parent-friendly version meets best practice guidelines. Start early and deliver the key messages you want to instil in parents joining the school in nursery and reception. Does your school have a home-school agreement that parents sign? Could this agreement contain an explanation to parents about how the school wishes to work with them where attendance is a concern and the legal penalties that may be instigated when other attempts to improve have failed?
Celebrate good attendance and reward those children who achieve well or show improvement. Stickers, certificates, letters home, prize draws or a mention in the newsletter all create a buzz about attendance and comments on the playground will help bring it to the attention of the whole school community.
The high expectations from September are going to be challenging and initially PA figures will be a concern, but we have seen before that with a robust and thorough approach, schools, academies and their pupils can and will reap the benefits.
- School Census 2014 to 2015 guide, version 2.1 (DfE April 2015)
- Departmental advice for maintained schools, academies, independent schools and local authorities (DfE October 2014)
- Parental responsibility measures (DfE January 2015)
- The link between absence and attainment at KS2 and KS4 2012/13 (DfE February 2015)
- A guide to absence statistics (DfE May 2015)