16th January 2023

Attendance goals need to be as ambitious as children are for themselves

I have previously set out that every school should be a school for children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND). This means that every school should be able to offer a suitable and supportive learning environment for children with SEND, with some schools specialising in meeting the most complex and acute needs.

Research for my Attendance Audit found that children with an Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) were more likely to be severely absent from school and experience higher overall absence than their peers without an EHCP. I want to see progress towards a system where the professionals working with children with SEND are setting realistic goals for school attendance. These goals should be integrated as part of the child’s EHCP, so that they can receive the right support to reach that goal and ultimately, are receiving an education which matches their ambitions.

Data for the first week of the 2022/23 Spring Term showed an absence rate of 7% across all schools. However, the attendance rate in secondary was 91% and in special schools was 87%, much lower than primary which saw a rate of 94%. For the 2022 academic year to date whilst special schools saw more authorised absence than mainstream secondary and primary schools, they also saw a high rate of unauthorised absence of 2.9% (compared to 3.1% unauthorised in secondary and 1.5% in primary).

It is concerning to see so much unauthorised absence continuing in schools at the start of term, as my research has shown that children who miss the first day of a new term are more at risk of becoming persistently absent than those who attend those first few days.

Attendance is still everyone’s business, and I am very pleased to remain a part of the Attendance Action Alliance, which meets again next week. That this crucial cross-sector group is continuing despite the changes in government is testament to how key this issue is and how important it is that we continue to work constructively together to support children and young people into education. I will continue to champion children’s voices across government and look forward to making sure that their experiences are at the heart of any government policy.