31st October 2022

Welcome back – attendance and the importance of the first week of term

Welcome back! I hope you had a relaxing and well-deserved rest. As you prepare for the new term, I want to emphasise the importance of getting all children in school and ready to learn, every day. In The Big Ask, the largest survey ever of children in England, children told me that getting a good education was vital for their future happiness. Every child, no matter where they are born or the circumstances they are born into, should receive a world class education. 

I want a school system that works for all. For a school system that matches the ambitions of children across England and allows all children to achieve their goals. Children tell me that when they need extra help, schools and teachers are where they naturally turn -– whether that is for support with their mental health, for an additional need or safe spaces to play after school. And with the school revolution well under way, this vision is within reach.  

But, as I always say – creating an excellent education system is not enough if children aren’t actually attending. Even before the pandemic, there was a group of children struggling to attend school regularly. Coming out of the pandemic, this number has only increased. In Autumn 2021, the school census confirmed the number was 1.7 million – that means 1 in 4 children are persistently absent. This is a startling number on its own, but when you compare it to 1 in 9 children in 2018/2019, you really start to understand just how big the problem we are facing is.  

That is why, at the beginning of this year, I launched my attendance campaign with the aim of getting 100% attendance on the first day back in school in September. I spoke to children and professionals across England, to understand the reasons behind persistent absence and provided practical solutions to this complex problem in a series of reports.  

My team also produced unique and ground-breaking analysis of daily attendance data from three multi-academy trusts. We found two striking things: firstly, children who missed the second, third and fourth day of a new term were predicted an overall absence of almost 45%, or 31 days across the term, significantly more than their peers who attended those first few days. Secondly, whilst Fridays are the most common day for children to be absent, it is actually those children who miss mid-weekdays, Tuesday-Thursday, who re more likely to be habitually absent from school.   

I used this data to inform a helpful how-to guide for school attendance officers to spot pupils at risk of falling persistently absent, tips for intervention and how to re-engage these students.   

As we go into a new term – make sure that you arm yourself with materials to support children to attend regularly. We need to wrap care around our students to ensure that all children feel like they can attend school regularly. Lets work together to make sure that no students fall through the gaps!