As the final few days of summer come to a close, it’s time to get ready for the return to school. I know that so much work goes in to make the first week a success. Teachers are completing inset days, parents are buying pencil cases, and children up and down the country are rushing to complete their summer projects.
As the back-to-school season kicks in, I have an ask for all teachers, parents, and children’s services: I want you to make school attendance your priority this term. We must all work together if we are to achieve 100% attendance.
Last year, the school absence rate stood at 7.5%, compared to 4.7% pre-pandemic. An increasing number of children have started to regularly miss school. A child is known as “persistently absent” when they miss 10% or more of possible sessions in school. In 2022/23, nearly a quarter (22.3%) of all children were persistently absent. Absence levels have remained stuck at unprecedented highs.
I have made understanding the barriers that children face in attending school one of my top priorities. In my first year, I launched a big piece of research known as the Attendance Audit, which looked at how much councils know about children who are not in school.
I followed this up with Voices of England’s Missing Children, a deep dive report which gave persistently absent children a chance to tell us, in their own words, the barriers they faced in going to school. We found that the reasons for absence were complex. Some of the most common reasons for absence were increased disengagement with education following the pandemic, a lack of special educational needs provision, and poor mental health.
In the Big Ask, over half a million children told me that they enjoy being in school and what they want is the support to help them thrive in education. In fact, children who accessed support were more likely to tell my office that they enjoyed being in school. If we get this right, we can make school a place which every child loves.
This week, we must put in place the final plans to make the return to school run smoothly. Schools should examine their attendance data from last year, identify the children who had high levels of absence, and put in place individual plans to ease their transition back to school in September. Schools can use the Department for Education’s new attendance data collection to identify children struggling to engage and to look at the trends around school attendance. If you haven’t already signed up for this initiative, you can do so here.
I am also calling on non-school settings to make attendance their top priority. Attendance is everyone’s business, meaning that everyone involved with the care of children is equally responsible for ensuring children’s attendance. This means schools, LAs, social care, NHS workers and community partners all have a responsibility to see the child in school every day, and to wrap support around that child.
Over this week, I’ll be releasing a series of blogs outlining the work that all professionals can do to help children to return to school in September. I have set an ambitious target for 100% attendance at school because I want to make sure that no child gets left behind. We can achieve 100% attendance, but only if we all work together to make attendance our top priority.