We Need to Talk About Attendance

It’s well known that following the pandemic, many schools in England have found it incredibly challenging to encourage pupils back into the classroom.

The DfE published updated guidance in May to support schools and local authorities in driving up school attendance titled Improving school attendance: support for schools and local authorities. Many of their recommendations focus on clear and concise messaging about school expectations and the importance of good attendance on pupil wellbeing, safety and attainment.

One of the tools in the school’s arsenal is fines, in which are used in varying degrees. Some schools actively fine parents to discourage poor attendance, other schools do not utilise fines at all.

It was recently revealed that almost 1.8m children regularly missed school in the first term of the 21/22 academic year and to date over £3.7M in fines have been issued to parents, but is fining parents the best approach? Currently, we are experiencing the difficulties associated with the growing cost of living crisis, which is disproportionately affecting the poorest families who are also most likely to have poor attendance, and therefore be subject to fines. The Government has recently confirmed that a new cost-of-living payment will be issued to more than eight million households, as part of a £37 billion package to help families with living pressures.

Clearly, there is a place for fines as part of a consistently applied escalation procedure but the DfE guidance places more emphasis on families and schools working in partnership to tackle attendance issues and drive improvement. As part of its recommendations, the DfE advocate the use of robust school systems that ‘provide useful data at cohort, group and individual pupil level to give an accurate view of attendance, reasons for absence and patterns amongst groups’ to regularly monitor attendance and facilitate early intervention.

Understanding the underlying reasons for absence should be a key role schools are undertaking when trying to tackle persistent absence. For instance, are there patterns to the absence? Is it at a certain point during the month when money might be really tight (before payday) and paying for transport to school is an issue? There are a number of factors to consider when looking at absence stats.

It is my experience that schools make a great effort to support pupils and families with the information they have but many are unaware of how best to utilise their existing MIS system to monitor attendance amongst vulnerable groups and actively flag pupils whose attendance has become a cause for concern. Schools MIS contains a wealth of very powerful data, unfortunately many schools use the MIS as a storage cabinet for information rather than a tool that provides the holistic view of each child to determine how and where schools utilise their very valuable resources.

By Chris Fagan
Business Application Support Manager
Digital Services – The Education Space