Government introduces new measures to improve attendance
Data shows that school attendance has not yet been restored to pre-pandemic levels, with 1.8 million children now persistently absent from school. As part of a major national drive to improve attendance, the government has announced the launch of 18 new attendance hubs, bringing the total number to 32. Attendance hubs will share practical support and resources to tackle persistent absence in 2,000 schools across the country.
Additionally, the government will expand the attendance mentoring scheme with an investment of £15 million. The pilot programme is currently being run by children’s charity Barnardo’s in five of the government’s priority education investment areas (PEIAs): Salford, Middlesbrough, Doncaster, Knowsley, and Stoke-on-Trent. Reflecting on the success of the pilot scheme, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, Lynn Perry MBE, says that ‘in Middlesbrough, 82% of the children we have worked with improved their attendance through one-on-one support from an attendance mentor, with almost two-thirds of the children saying their mental health also improved.’ With additional funding, the programme will be extended to 10 further areas from September 2024.
Ministers have also launched a national marketing campaign with the strapline “Moments Matter, Attendance Counts.” Aimed at parents and carers, the campaign outlines the importance of attendance for attainment, wellbeing, and development. This follows recent polling by YouGov, which shows that 28% of parents agree that the pandemic has shown it is not essential for children to attend school every day. Further, only 70% of parents are confident their child’s needs are being met at school.
Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), Leora Cruddas CBE, supports the government’s proposals but explains that the issues around school attendance are much more complex than they were prior to the pandemic, citing the rise in mental health problems, a breakdown in support services, and the number of young people now living in poverty. As a result, she says ‘these complex social factors mean we need a much more systemic response.’
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Pass rate in GCSE maths resits continues to decline
This week, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) published results data for GCSE exam resits taken by pupils in November. Only 22.9% achieved the grade 4 they needed to pass in maths. This represents a decline from the previous year, where 24.9% achieved a pass. Prior to the pandemic, the pass rate stood at 26.9%. In contrast, 40.3% of pupils passed their November exams in English. This marks a continued rise from 38% in 2022 and 32.3% in 2019.
The JCQ warns that it is not possible to make meaningful comparisons between results this year and previous examination series due to ‘changing entry patterns and different assessment and grading arrangements’ as a result of the pandemic. Notably, there was a significant rise in the number of pupils taking resits in the November exam series, with 65,250 entered for maths and 60,365 for English language. This represents a respective increase of 18% and 29% since 2022.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), remarks that the rising number of resits reveals a ‘deeper problem with our current exam system.’ Whilst the government’s resit policy is designed to give pupils another chance to earn important qualifications, the reality is that most will never pass. Instead, Barton argues:
‘We need literacy and numeracy assessments which build confidence and competence in these vital skills, thereby better serving the needs of employers and giving every young person the dignity of a qualification of which they can be proud.’
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Top 150 comprehensive schools are more socially selective than grammars
Disadvantaged pupils are less likely to get into top schools even if they have one in their local area, according to a new report from the Sutton Trust. Research shows that the average intake of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) was only 17.1% in the top 500 comprehensive schools ranked by Progress 8 scores. When ranking schools according to Attainment 8 scores, this figure fell even further to 13.3%. This is significantly lower than the average intake of 22% in all other comprehensives.
Researchers point out that a third of the gap is explained by the location of schools in affluent areas where homes are largely unaffordable for the parents of disadvantaged children. However, two-thirds of the gap can be attributed to some form of social selection within the area. The data reveals that the FSM rate of intakes in the top Progress 8 schools was 4.3 percentage points lower than the pupils living in their local catchment areas, and 5.8 percentage points for top Attainment 8 schools.
Further analysis found that some comprehensive schools were more socially exclusive than the average grammar. Whilst grammar schools had an FSM rate 9.2 percentage points lower than their catchment areas, 150 of the top comprehensives had an even greater gap.
The report makes a series of recommendations for school leaders to help remove financial barriers and make admissions policies fairer, such as including pupil premium in oversubscription priority criteria. However, whilst school admission policies and processes play a significant part in social selection, researchers say that there are a number of other contributing factors, including local authority decision-making, parental choice, geography, and the social and cultural composition of communities. Therefore, they encourage the government to review existing admission code policies, reduce uniform and transport costs, and improve the quality of all schools.
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