Working together to improve school attendance – School Attendance Policies

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Primary school children attending school, wearing school uniforms and backpacks, running on a walkway
Primary school children running towards the camera smiling.

The new Schools Bill which was introduced in May 2022 is one of the most significant updates seen in the Education Sector in recent years. Section 3 of the Bill focuses on school attendance and includes new statutory duties on local authorities to use their powers to promote regular school attendance and to reduce absences. These duties will come into force no earlier than September 2023 but for the moment guidance has been issued to schools, trusts, and local authorities to promote regular school attendance.

The importance of school attendance is clear – regular school attendance increases attainment and improves the wider life chances of pupils. Research has shown that the pupils with the highest attainment at key stages 2 and 4 have higher rates of attendance than peers. For example, pupils with 3.5% absence were more likely to meet expected standard in reading, writing and maths at key stage 2 whereas those whose absence levels were 4.7% were not meeting expected standards.

There is an expectation within schools that attendance will be everyone’s business – it can no longer sit as the role of a small team of pastoral staff within an office but must be integral to the core functions of school.

In this blog we will focus on attendance policies and what schools should be sharing with parents.

Schools are expected to develop a culture of high expectations which are shared with all pupils, parents, and carers through a clear attendance policy. This policy must contain clear expectations including:

  • The start and end times of the school day, including register closing times
  • The process parents must follow to inform school of absence
  • The process for requesting leave
  • The name and contact details of the strategic lead for school attendance – this must be a senior leader in school.
  • The contact details of who to contact on a day-to-day basis for attendance support within school
  • What the schools processes are for managing attendance e.g. first day calling, truancy calls, safe and well checks etc.
  • How the school promotes good attendance (and incentives used)
  • The whole school strategy to reduce persistant absence and severe absence – including how wider support can be accessed.
  • How the school will use data to target attendance improvements for individual pupils and for cohorts of pupils.
  • The point at which fixed penalty notices or other sanctions will be applied.

The guidance is clear that the policy should be applied fairly and consistently but must consider the individual needs of pupils and their families. Therefore, any policy must also consider guidance on Special Educational Needs and Disability, Children with Medical Needs, Children Missing Education, Exclusions, Alternative Provision and Safeguarding.

The policy must also be easily accessible and published on school websites.

Parents should also be sent the policy when joining the school and reminded of it at the beginning of each school year and when the policy is updated.

Where a parent has English as an Additional Language consideration needs to be given on how the policy will be shared with them to ensure it is as accessible as possible.

The policy should also be reviewed in conjunction with parents and pupils.

Policies should become “live” working documents and should reflect current processes within school.

To support schools we have produced a short video on attendance policy updates and also a tick sheet for schools to use. These can be accessed free on our training platform through the “What to include in an attendance policy link”

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