School attendance strategy

What’s new in supporting the improvement of attendance in schools?

The school attendance team

As outlined in the new guidance, every local authority must have a school attendance team. For Lincolnshire, this sits within the current wider Inclusion and Attendance service area. It will focus on four functions:

  1. overview of the strategy
  2. strategic monitoring and conducting of targeted school meeting to all schools including independent and alternative provision
  3. advice and strategic support to all schools 
  4. support in decision making prior to following a legal process
  5. communication and training to schools, Children’s Services and the wider supporting organisations

The new team will consist of four attendance officers and one team leader. Each school will have a nominated officer.

Lincolnshire’s attendance priorities

Seven priorities have been identified as areas that need to improve and where improvement will have a significant impact on the overall attendance rate:

  1. The level of authorised attendance
  2. The level of persistent absence
  3. Absence rates in special schools
  4. Absence rates for children with Education Health Care Plans
  5. Absence rates of children with a Social Worker
  6. Absence rates for children with anxiety or school phobia
  7. Absence rates of children known to the youth offending service (Futures4Me)

Targeting support meetings (TSM)

In line with the DfE guidance, local authorities are expected to organise termly targeted support meetings with each school in their area. These meetings will take place three times per year and will focus on the following areas:

  • school attendance priorities
  • local authority attendance priorities
  • attendance of children in the five absence categories (see below)
  • attendance of specific cohorts of children
  • successes and areas for improvement

Where the school already meets on a termly basis with a local authority officer for example maintained schools meetings with their locality leads, special school meetings with SEND team leader, conversations around attendance will form part of this discussion. All other TSM’s will be conducted by the attendance team.

A template will be used for these meetings so that information collected from schools is consistent and can be used in any local authority data analysis.

These meetings will be an opportunity to:

  • build strong relationships and work collaboratively to support the wider attendance approach
  • help the school identify areas to focus on in their school policies or approaches. This may include:
    • help in analysing their own data
    • how they may learn from and work with other schools who have faced similar patterns or trends

Where barriers to attendance for a pupil or family are complex and a child is within the severe absence category, the meetings will be an opportunity for the school, with the support of the local authority representative, to identify next steps.

The five categories of school attendance

Lincolnshire has identified five levels of absence. All children will be categorised by schools into one of these levels. This is not about labelling children. It is about:

  • identifying groups and, where appropriate, individual children
  • being very clear of their attendance rates
  • what needs to happen to improve this
  • measuring that improvement

School attendance – boundaries and description

95 to 100% - as expected
91 to 94% - at risk of persistent absence
80 to 90% - persistent absence
51 to 79% - at risk of severe absence
Less than or equal to 50% - severe absence

Schools will be expected to report on numbers and percentages of children that are in these five categories at the TSMs.

Children with a social worker

Good attendance at school offers additional safeguarding for vulnerable children. Historically, children with a social worker have had higher absence rates.  A quarter of children who have ever needed a social worker are persistently absent.  This compares with 10% for those who have never been in need.

Therefore, additional monitoring is required to improve the attendance of this cohort. This will be carried out by the virtual school as part of their expansion to the role of overseeing the education of pupils with a social worker.

This will include:

  • regular monitoring of attendance of children with a social worker including those looked-after by the local authority
  • setting aspirational targets for attendance within child protection plans and as part of the personal education plans for looked after children
  • specific attendance training for designated teachers who support children who have ever needed a social worker
  • work across children’s social care services to make sure social workers understand:
    • the importance of good school attendance
    • that it is a key part of all child in need and child protection plans if attendance is a concern
  • ensure schools inform a child’s social worker if there are unexplained absences from school

Attendance is ‘everyone’s business’

Where previously, attention to school attendance has been the responsibility of schools and attendance teams, it should now be considered by all those working with children and families.

Securing good attendance cannot therefore be seen in isolation. Effective practices for improvement will involve:

  • close interaction with schools’ efforts on:
    • curriculum
    • behaviour
    • bullying
    • special educational needs support
    • pastoral
    • mental health and wellbeing
  • effective use of resources, including pupil premium

It cannot solely be the preserve of a single member of staff, or organisation. It must be a concerted effort across:

The expectations are that everyone:

  • is supportive of school and school attendance
  • is attendance curious and asks why children are not in school
  • considers school commitments when making appointments and contacts with families 
  • is aware of the wider safeguarding risks of child not being at school (is the child at home alone, or out alone?)
  • reminds parents of support available for example early help 
  • contacts the school if there is information that they should know (not being at school is a safeguarding concern)
  • considers any changes in their organisation’s delivery that may impact positively on the attendance of children

Joint decision making on enforcement for non-attendance

A parent who does not ensure the attendance of their child or provision of education elsewhere is at risk of a criminal investigation. The decision to follow this route by schools should not be taken lightly. It is not the position of the local authority to fine parents but to follow the best pathway to improve the attendance of children. If any other route can be taken to reach this goal, then it should be considered. Lack of improvement or lack of parental engagement in attempts to improve attendance could be considered as a reason to pursue a legal route.

To ensure that this has been investigated fully, schools are asked to contact the attendance officer for their area to discuss cases for fixed penalty notices (other than family holidays) and prosecutions prior to submitting a report. The process is as follows:

  1. School follow attendance policy procedures: school attendance has not improved
  2. School discusses child with their named attendance officer if they are considering a legal route to address poor attendance
  3. Decision is made as to whether there are any other approaches and support than can be offered that would have a positive impact on the attendance of the child
  4. If child is on a CiN or CP plan, decision must be shared and agreed with the social worker
  5. If legal approach is put on hold, case review takes place in agreed timescale
  6. If no other approach is identified, case proceeds as prosecution