New measures to reduce pupil absence

As part of the Education Secretary’s commitment to make school attendance his top priority, the government has announced that they will introduce new expert attendance advisers with first-hand experience to begin work to reduce pupil absence.

The government say that the advisers will work with local authorities and multi-academy trusts who have been identified as having potential to benefit from the support and who want to use the expertise to help re-engage persistently absent pupils.

The Department for Education has also said that they have identified schools with some of the greatest decreases in absence rates over a five-year period prior to the pandemic, and that have maintained their excellent approach. They will be sharing their approach with other schools in a variety of ways over the coming weeks and months, to help reduce high absence rates.

Schools minister Robin Walker recently visited one of the schools with above average attendance rates, London Academy, to see their approach first-hand.

He used the visit as an opportunity to call on everyone who works with children, whether that be teachers and headteachers, social workers, youth workers or parents themselves, to help break down barriers to those children being in school.

Robin Walker said: “It has been fantastic to see how through a combination of data, proactivity and a focus on children’s wellbeing, a school like the London Academy has driven up attendance and reduced persistent absence. Every lesson that we can prevent a child from missing is another building block to their life chances, development and wellbeing.

“My department is channelling all its efforts to provide support and guidance to help schools, local authorities and multi-academy trusts take action to increase attendance, and I ask that everyone working with children does everything in their power to help break down any barriers to them attending school.

“I recognise that COVID-19 is still with us and causing some unavoidable absence – but this is all the more reason that we must all take action to address every avoidable reason for a child not being in school.”

The government say that they hope the attendance advisors will draw on their expertise as former headteachers and local authority leaders, as well as best practice from across the sector, to support local authorities and school trusts with approaches tailored to their specific needs.

They might advise how data and partnership working can be improved across local areas to identify and support children at risk of persistent absence, or how local authorities can make sure all parts of their services from social workers to housing officers are focused on breaking down barriers to attendance.

Following a recent Children’s Commissioner’s Big Ask survey, children said they “like school” and they “realised how sitting in front of the computer is no proxy for being with a teacher”.

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