The start of the new academic year can be an exciting time for pupils and school staff, with a summer’s worth of adventures to talk about and a year of learning to look forward to.
For some pupils however, September can be a daunting time, particularly if they are not starting back on the same day as the rest of their class. Extending family holidays in order to try and save money on flights and packages can not only cause families to incur penalty notices, it can also have a detrimental effect on the pupils throughout the year. What may seem like “just a few days” to parents is actually long enough for social groups to be established and for learning to be missed.
Parents should be made aware of the potential issues that their child may face by allowing them to miss the start of the school year. Expectations around the start of term, including the date, start time and uniform requirements will have been disseminated thoroughly and clearly in the weeks leading up to the end of the summer term, and should be repeated around now, towards the end of the school holidays. For pupils not returning on the correct day in September, your school’s attendance protocols should begin immediately, with first day calling, home visits and letters being instigated in line with your escalation of interventions. Safeguarding is paramount and schools need to know that all their pupils are safe and well after the long break.
If family holidays have been prolonged and begin to eat into the new school year, local protocols around penalty notices and prosecutions should be followed. To do this effectively, all parents must be made aware, in writing, that any unauthorised leave in term time could result in the school requesting statutory action from the local authority. This message should also be relayed clearly to parents and carers throughout the year in newsletters, correspondence and on the school website. If the leave is for more than the amount of sessions set out in your local authority’s protocols, making a penalty notice request should be considered.
Be clear on your school’s attendance policies
Following the recent High Court ruling, there has been a lot of uncertainty regarding legal action and leave of absence. After the long legal process involving the Jon Platt case, a parent who took his child out of school for unauthorised leave during term time, a conclusion has now been reached. As a result, a strong message has been given to schools and parents: a pupil’s education is paramount and legal action will be taken when parents knowingly remove their child from school without authorisation. Equally, this case demonstrates the necessity for schools to be unambiguous in their policies, procedures and terminology, ensuring all parties are clear on their responsibilities and that if necessary, the quality of evidence they collate and submit to their local authority is appropriate and will stand up in court, leaving no room for technical errors.
Where there are historic attendance concerns around a pupil, the first days back in September are very important for: establishing the pupil’s pattern of attendance; ensuring that the pupil is welcome and that staff and other pupils are pleased to see them; and to establish that the pupil now has a fresh start. Friendly and enthusiastic language is essential and schools should be proactive in ensuring that pupils start the year with a good attitude, offering them opportunities to become part of the school community. Recognising a pupil’s achievements, however small, will have a positive impact.
Opportunities may include: being on a school team; acquiring a place in a performance; or taking a role within the school community requiring the pupil to attend school every day. Helping pupils to start non-academic activities may also motivate and encourage a positive relationship with school. Attendance staff need to be very mindful of which pupils are vulnerable to poor attendance or possible safeguarding breaches. By examining the data from the previous years and setting up user defined groups, attendance staff in school will be able to monitor individual attendance and act immediately.
Engage families with support services
A positive relationship with parents and carers is really crucial, and may be supported by helping pupils and families to engage with support services where appropriate, helping parents to build relationships with other families, and helping parents to engage with the school community.
Whilst September is always a new start for pupils and families, it is also the time to act quickly to prevent poor patterns of absence from continuing and becoming more deeply entrenched. Where interventions have been implemented during the previous academic year and have been successful, it may only require small, clear reminder messages, such as: medical evidence will be required; support is always available; and attendance at school every day is expected unless unavoidable. Some parents may feel more comfortable at home than at school, so a home visit towards the end of the summer holidays or during the first week may open up a dialogue with parents where a clear action plan can be created with achievable goals for the year agreed.
We all know that if you start the day on a positive note, then the rest of the day is likely to follow suit. Starting the school year in the same way with encouragement, enthusiasm, praise and recognition alongside guidance, support and clear expectations may have the same impact.