6th September 2022

The importance of the first week back at school – a guide for attendance officers

In ‘The Big Ask’, the largest ever survey of children in England, which I launched last year, children were clear that they like school, and that getting a good education is really important to them. Vulnerable children, such as those with SEND or those with a social worker were even more likely than their peers to say education was important to their future plans.

However, the reality is that attendance is a problem for schools, parents and children that has only gotten worse since the pandemic. In Autumn 2021, 1.7 million children were persistently absent from school – pupils missed 6.9% of their sessions on average and 1.6% of their sessions for unauthorised reasons. That is why I launched my campaign to investigate the problem of persistent absence and have published new research and insights, alongside a plan for change.

Over the summer I published ground-breaking new analysis of attendance data from three multi-academy trusts – the fourth in a series of publications on attendance from my office. The data confirmed my theory that if a child attends every day for the first week of the school term that is a strong indicator that they will go on to attend school regularly throughout the term. For example, children who had an unauthorised absence on any day during the first week of term had an average term-level unauthorised absence rate of 25% compared to an unauthorised absence rate of 2% for pupils who didn’t miss any sessions in the first week.

I am hoping that every child is ready and raring to go from their first day back but I know that some children will struggle. It’s no secret that I want every single child in school on the first day back in September and now its crunch time – the results day for all those that are dedicated to ensuring children are regularly attending school.

So, we must intervene quickly during the first week to  spot the children who might be at risk of falling persistently absent, to listen to them about the reasons for their absence, and to get them any support they need to feel confident in school.

I know that there will be lots of things going on in the first few days of the term but there is nothing more important than making sure the children that should be in school, are in school.

This is why I have launched my how-to guide for attendance officers. This highlights attendance trends to look out for and how to intervene effectively if you suspect a child is at risk of becoming persistently absent or falling out of education altogether. Please do use my back into school pages if you need any additional resources.

Good luck for the rest of the term!