How Peninsula Education increased whole-school attendance in all 29 Primary Academies of one Cornwall's Multi-Academy Trusts.
Pupil safeguarding and staff confidence increased, with persistent absence cut by over 50% in Aspire’s most vulnerable schools thanks to more consistent attendance monitoring.
Summary of results
Declining attendance due to inconsistent tracking strategies
The Directors at Aspire Multi-Academy Trust work hard to improve each of their schools on an individual level at all times. But the 29 schools were all tracking their attendance differently, and in 2018, it became clear that this wasn’t just taking its toll on the Directors, but also on the pupils in their care. The lack of consistency across all sites was leading to declining attendance in their most vulnerable schools, and threatening to put children at risk from a safeguarding perspective.
Sally Hannaford is Director of Safeguarding for Aspire and is responsible for school improvement, attendance, safeguarding and wellbeing for all the schools within the Trust. “Attendance wasn’t being tracked quickly, so persistent absence wasn’t being challenged as quickly as it could”, she says. “It was an individualised approach. We had schools right next to each other doing different things even though they’re in the same Trust.”
“I was answerable to the fact that some schools were doing better than others. Trustees would challenge me, saying “why is attendance not improving?”. It was tricky for me.”
Sally decided that some expert help was needed to create a consistent tracking strategy, so attendance could be increased in their most challenging schools, and across the Trust as a whole.
In-school support and training to create and implement clearer policies across the whole Trust
Peninsula Education’s method of working was ideal for a large multi-academy trust. “You need somebody who can work with people – get people on side,” says Sally. “And Tracy’s had to get a range of people on board from an awful lot of different sectors, parents, teachers, admin staff, Trustees, Hubs.”
When working with so many schools within one Trust, it’s also important to be flexible and not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Tracy assessed all the schools and designed a package that would bring all schools to the same, excellent level, by providing specialist and individualised support to each school according to their needs. “Her adapting to the schools has been really important,” says Sally. “She’s prioritised her time to our most vulnerable pupils and our most vulnerable schools”.
Confident staff, consistency across the Trust, and a significant improvement in most vulnerable schools
Thanks to the more consistent systems in place across all schools, staff were able to confidently and fairly challenge those parents whose children were persistently absent. As a result, the attendance in one of the Trust’s most vulnerable and challenging academies very quickly increased by 4% to 96.5% – above the national average. Furthermore, they were able to cut their persistent absence by 56%, from 23.9% to 10.6%, in just one academic year.
“I remember the Head saying to me ‘Gosh, we’re not at the bottom anymore – we’re starting to catch up to the other schools’” Sally recalls. “It’s an absolute relief – because you know it’s something that Ofsted will look at when they come to our schools and we don’t want to be penalised for attendance”.
Thanks to the comprehensive training provided, staff confidence has increased as leaders feel more knowledgeable about what they should and shouldn’t challenge with parents. Parents also realise the staff want the best for their children and better understand the importance of their children being in school. As a result, parents feel more supported and schools enjoy a better working partnership with them.
The culture within the Trust has also changed. There’s a much more positive attitude towards managing attendance. Trustees feel more supported and know where to get help when they need it. “Attendance is no longer a taboo subject where we think we don’t know enough,” says Sally. “We feel confident in it now.”
But more than anything, the children are now in school more consistently and are safe and happy as a result. A result that’s very important to everyone, but no one more than Sally as Director of Safeguarding. “For me, this work means that first and foremost our children are kept safe. They’re in school, and if they’re in school they can be educated. If they’re educated, they’re going to do well – they’re going to make good progress and get even better results.”