Over the course of this year, I have been relentless in my focus on making sure that everyone understands what children need to thrive, to be happy and healthy. A huge part of that has been investigating children’s attendance at school. I have prioritised attendance because school is where children have told me, overwhelmingly, they want to be.
I want to see a system as ambitious for children as they are for themselves. This is why I have set a target to see 100% attendance at school. This target is not about blaming parents or children if the system cannot, at present, support their child to attend school. To support the system-wide and child-level evidence led solutions which I have called for this year I have embarked on an ambitious programme of research which has included speaking to 300 children and young people who struggle to attend school, surveying all local authorities in England and analysing the daily attendance data of 32,000 pupils in three multi-academy trusts (MATs).
The following report goes beyond only the data that schools hold. For all pupils on roll in Spring 2022 I have brought together six years of children’s social care, suspension, exclusion and attendance history, as well as key indicators of vulnerability. The analysis has found that children’s previous attendance history is the strongest indicator of whether a child will go on to be habitually absent in a new term. Perhaps this is unsurprising, that the children who were least likely to attend in previous terms are those the most likely to have higher rates of unauthorised absence and absence overall. However, if this is common sense, then why has the system been unable to address this pattern and provide suitable interventions for these children, to get them back into school regularly?
Additionally, taking into account a pupil’s absence history, having an EHCP was associated with a higher chance of being severely absent and higher overall absence. I have recently published my ambitions for the Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND) system which set out what we must do to ensure that children with SEND have equitable outcomes. This is true too for their attendance goals. The professionals working with children with SEND must be setting realistic goals for school attendance, integrating these as part of EHCPs and making sure that children are receiving a level of support and education which matches their ambitions.
The evidence in this report adds to the roadmap for schools and local authorities to target limited attendance resource, to knowing ahead of the new term which children are most at risk of low attendance and which children will be most in need of an intervention and support. We must stop being reactive, waiting until a child has already missed irreplaceable school days, and work proactively and collaboratively to support children to receive the education that they deserve.