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My Attendance Audit so far has included surveying all local authorities, carrying out a deep-dive in 10 local authorities to get to the root of school absence and a detailed investigation of the daily attendance patterns in autumn 2021.  

A consistent finding from this research was that children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND) can struggle to attend school regularly if they don’t receive the right support.  

Parents talked about the difficulty of getting the right support in school and that receiving support often hinged on getting an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), with children missing education while support was put in place: 

“Nobody has threatened me with any fines or anything like that […] I feel he has been forgotten about really.  […] We are waiting for his EHCP and I think they are too” – Mum of a 13 year old boy with autism. 

Needing support from multiple places, which sometimes aren’t joined up, can mean children fall through the gaps: 

“This is a story of LA having too many departments, not having enough consistency in their work, as in their social workers, and that’s how these things slip through the net” – Foster carer of girl with SEND. 

And children talked about wanting to be supported by teachers who could recognise that there was something going on with them: 

“It would be nice if staff looked for signs of someone needing help. People like me would like to be confronted if they need help” – Boy, 15, attending an independent special school. 

The whole system needs to address the challenges experienced by children with SEND, with a joined-up approach. My ‘Voices of England’s Missing Children’ report calls for every school to have a co-ordinated pastoral strategy which pulls together safeguarding, mental health, SEND and behaviour into an integrated approach, with a focus on supporting children to be in school, and to thrive in school. Additionally, I believe we need to better support staff to support SEND students. All teachers are teachers of children with additional needs, and so it is vital that all teachers receive the support and training to do this effectively. Finally, the SEND system needs to provide the right support in the right place and the right time, and it needs to be easy for families to navigate.  

I have investigated these issues further and reflected the views of children and young people in my response to the Government’s ‘SEND review: right support, right place, right time’, which will be published shortly.   

My target of 100% attendance in September is about ensuring that everyone that works with children, and has responsibilities towards them, joins togther around an ambitious target. It is not about blaming parents or children if the system cannot, at present, support their child attending school. It is about supporting families and children to be in school with the right support, as many children and families tell me that is what they want. We all need to work together to deliver radical reform of the system so that all schools are schools for children with SEND. 

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