The academic year is now in full swing, and as we begin getting to grips with school attendance, we must consider the recently published updates for schools across England. ‘Working Together to Improve School Attendance’ is the DfE’s attendance guidance which is in place from September 2022. It aims to help schools, academy trusts, and governing bodies maintain high levels of school attendance following much disruption over recent years. The guidance outlines the need for schools to recognised their continued responsibility to proactively manage and improve school attendance. Although the guidance is non-statutory and is currently a set of expectations for schools rather than legal duties, it will remain in place until such time that it becomes statutory, through the Schools Bill. This will be no sooner than September 2023.
Whilst many schools will already be practising the expectations set out within the document, they will also need to be aware of their roles and responsibilities and to ensure staff receive training on attendance. Now is a great time for anyone new to attendance and for those already established in their roles to refresh attendance knowledge and to ensure their school is fulfilling the statutory duties to protect the welfare of all pupils. Your staff can access Pupil Attendance training through One Education.
So, why the specific focus on school attendance?
School attendance has come into sharper focus since the disruption faced by many pupils due to the coronavirus pandemic. As part of this drive to improve school attendance, the DfE has set out within the guidance, their expectations on how schools may practically address attendance issues.
‘Working Together to Improve School Attendance’ sets out key priorities that schools are expected to deliver on, in order to manage and improve school attendance effectively. Does your school have the key priorities in place?
For the first time, schools are expected to have clearly defined statutory roles, which should be set out in a clear table, outlining the responsibilities of key staff members and partners. Schools are being asked to develop and maintain a whole school culture that promotes the benefits of good school attendance and is an integral part of the school’s ethos; “securing good attendance cannot be seen in isolation; attendance cannot be improved through a single member of staff or organisation and must be a concerted effort across all school staff, the trust or governing body, the local authority and other local partners.”
Your school should have an attendance policy, if not already in place, that all staff, pupils and parents understand. This policy should be easily accessible to leaders, staff, pupils and parents. The policy should be published on the school’s website and parents should be reminded of its contents on an annual basis. Schools will see reference to developing a school attendance policy from the guidance. The DfE is clear that the attendance policy should reflect the expectations set out in the guidance as a minimum.
(Our Advisers can offer help and guidance to implement and develop your school policy).
The guidance also states that schools should accurately complete admissions and attendance registers and have effective day-to-day processes in place to follow up when absence occurs. Schools should regularly monitor and analyse attendance and absence data to identify pupils or cohorts that require support with their attendance, enabling the school to put effective strategies in place.
Building strong relationships with our pupils and their families is key. We must seek to understand the barriers to attendance and work with families to help remove these, treating all pupils and parents with dignity. This supports the recognition that poor attendance is habitual and prevention and early intervention is critical. All pupils and parents should have clear expectations from their school; parents should be informed about their child’s attendance and have access to early help support in the first instance, before any legal action is taken. Schools should share information and work collaboratively with other schools in the area, local authorities, and other partners when absence is at risk of becoming persistent or severe.
The DfE guidance makes clear the values placed on school attendance. It also states that: “effective practices for improvement must be closely linked with curriculum, behaviour, bullying, special education needs support, pastoral and mental health and wellbeing, and effective use of resources such as the pupil premium.”
As referred to earlier, the current guidance is non-statutory. Therefore, schools can be working towards these expectations before they become a statutory requirement. If your school would like further support on the new changes including guidance and advice on implementing an effective attendance policy, please contact One Education’s Education Welfare & Safeguarding Team.