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Attendance policies: what the government expects from schools

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The government has put forward a range of new proposals to boost pupil attendance in schools – which Schools Standards Minister Robin Walker said is ‘crucial to pupils’ success, well-being and life chances “.

Proposals – presented after a consultation which saw a range of responses from leaders, teachers and parents – include a new national system of fines for non-attendance as well as the introduction of multi-academy trust requirements on the granting leave in accordance with programs funded by the state schools.

Perhaps most particularly for school leaders, however, is the call for schools to develop a “specific written school attendance policy” which the Department for Education (DfE) says will help foster a “school culture of high attendance, underpinned by clear expectations”. , procedures and responsibilities”.

A legal requirement

Additionally, the DfE said it would like schools to have them in place for the start of the next school year – just four months away.

At present, the guidance is non-statutory, so schools could, if they wished, ignore the request.

However, they won’t be able to do this for long, as the government hopes to make it a legal requirement in the future, specifying on page 18 that the Secretary of State “plans to legislate as soon as possible to introduce a new legal obligation for owners to ensure that such a policy is produced, published and regularly made public”.

So the reality seems to be that another top-down demand on schools has arrived – although it should be noted that, among consultation respondents at least, such an idea was not seen as abhorrent.

Specifically, when asked the question, “Do you agree that all schools should be required to publish an attendance policy?” 798 of the 1,640 responses received said they “totally agreed” while 369 “rather agreed”.

Conversely, only 318 in total either “strongly disagree” or “somewhat disagree”.

Update what exists

It’s possible that many respondents didn’t see this as an onerous requirement because, as noted by James Bowen, Policy Officer at NAHT, it’s something the vast majority of metrics already have in place.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a school that doesn’t have an attendance policy,” Bowen said. Your.

“So, I think the overwhelming majority of schools will already have attendance policies because they need them to communicate clearly with parents and families.”

Nevertheless, if the government ever wants to require such policies to exist as a point of law, it is fair to ask exactly what it thinks they should contain, so that schools can see how much their efforts current are up to par.

To help schools, the government has detailed exactly what it thinks a school attendance policy should include, which we have reproduced here in full from page 11 of the new guidelines:

  • Attendance and punctuality expectations for students and parents, including the start and end of the day, closing times for records, and processes for requesting time off and informing the school about due to an unexpected absence.
  • The name and contact details of the senior manager responsible for the strategic approach to school attendance.
  • Information and contact details for the member of school staff that students and parents should contact regarding day-to-day attendance (such as a tutor or attendance officer) and for more detailed support with assiduity (such as a leader of the year, pastoral animator or liaison officer with families).
  • The school’s day-to-day attendance management processes. For example, first day calls and processes for tracking unexplained absences.
  • How the school promotes and encourages good attendance.
  • The school’s strategy for using the data to target attendance improvement efforts to the students or student cohorts most in need.
  • The school’s strategy to reduce persistent and severe absences, including how access to broader support services will be provided to remove barriers to attendance and when support will be formalized in conjunction with authority local.
  • When notices of fixed penalty for absence and other sanctions will be requested, if the support is not appropriate (for example, for an unauthorized leave during school term), has not been completed or has not been initiated .

The DfE also said schools should ensure that this document is easily accessible on school websites and sent to parents when their child starts school and then at the start of each school year thereafter or if the policy is updated.

Notably, the DfE said that if a school updates this policy document, it “should seek input from students and parents” in doing so.

He also said schools with boundaries will need to ensure the document is written in a way that reflects the requirement of their attendance.

Finally, the DfE said that “attendance policy should take into account the specific needs of certain pupils” and, while the policy should be applied “fairly and consistently”, schools should also “take into account the individual needs of pupils”. students and their families who have specific barriers to attendance”.

It may seem like a lot but BOwen said there shouldn’t be anything too alarming, noting that while some aspects may need “little tweaks”, most were likely what schools are already doing.

Lack of broader support

Pepe Di’Iasio, principal of Wales High School in Sheffield, agreed, saying that because most schools “already have attendance policies” it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to meet the requirement. He also said it was not unreasonable for the DfE to want to bring “clarity and consistency” to this area.

But while Mr Bowen felt it was fair to talk about the role of schools in attendance, he feared the new government guidelines had nothing to do with pushing support services to do more to increase attendance.

“By far the most important issue is understanding the reasons why pupils are constantly absent and ensuring that high quality support services are available so that schools can refer children and young people if necessary – in particularly with regard to mental health issues.

“These new guidelines do nothing to address this issue.”

Lawyers Nicola Tarmey and Yvonne Spencer, of VWV, raised similar concerns, noting that without investment in support services, the penultimate item on the list – requiring schools to have a strategy to reduce persistent absences – would be “very difficult to achieve”, which could be problematic if it is a legal requirement.

“The reasons for children not attending school can be complex and can stem from factors such as children’s unmet SEND (special educational needs and disabilities), mental health issues, family dynamics in crisis, gangs and violence. ‘criminal exploitation,’ they said.

“Unless there are proportionate legal obligations for local authorities, health services (including Camhs) and the police to explain and play their role in making school attendance safe, schools may find themselves without the essential support that will be needed to improve school attendance, due to the strain that already exists on these external services.”

More tips but no answers

The fact that the support services aspect was missing from the proposal was, Mr Bowen said, another example of the DfE getting stuck in “guidance mode” and trying to get schools to fix everything without any support.

“They’ve gotten used to giving a lot of advice and now there’s an awful lot of it… being pumped into schools. It’s a 60-page document just about attendance, which is just one aspect of school work,” he said

“So I think schools are frustrated with the amount of guidance being given to them at the moment – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of recognition from the government about the amount of paperwork they’re pushing on schools.”

It will be at least some time before this requirement becomes law – if, indeed, it goes the way set by the DfE. And we could see the government also defining how it will increase services around the school to support attendance.

In the meantime, however, it looks like schools may want to revisit their attendance policies and compare them with the points above to see how they stack up – and start re-framing them if necessary.

Dan Worth is editor of Your