This guidance was created in collaboration with our Ofsted expert.
Data indicators for 2016-17 suggest national attendance levels for both primary and secondary schools may significantly decline as a result of the recent high-profile court cases in which some parents challenged the fines that they received.
This issue has always been a contentious one, but the recent press has resulted in a significant increase in the amount of pupils taken on holiday during term time. As a result, attendance for a significant proportion of schools has declined and schools are facing a challenge. Many are resorting to issuing penalties; however, many parents simply pay the fine as the savings for taking holidays during term time often outweigh the cost of the fine. While parents see this as a penalty worth paying for, schools are facing the challenge of a rise in unauthorised absences.
To ensure that attendance levels improve, schools should take time to look at their existing attendance procedures and put in place some changes to current practices, to ensure a consistent approach to improving attendance.
A school’s attendance policy should clearly state the following key points:
- Good attendance and punctuality are vital for success at school and to establish positive life habits necessary for future success.
- Good attendance and punctuality minimises the risks of pupils conducting anti-social behaviour or becoming victims or perpetrators of crime or abuse (especially in terms of safeguarding in secondary schools).
- Regular attendance encourages children to build friendships and develop social groups, working together as a whole team, sharing ideas and developing life skills – children's social skills are similarly enhanced by regular attendance (linking into the personal development of pupils).
- Non-attendees will not only miss out on essential learning but also other social events taking place (linking into the personal development of pupils).
- The school has a positive and proactive ethos that places a high value on attendance and punctuality (linking into the personal development of pupils).
- Partnership with parents promotes good attendance and advocates close working with all local schools – it is these partnerships that aim to provide a cohesive approach to tackling attendance by ensuring that every child matters (linking into a common approach to attendance amongst local schools).
- The Attendance Policy and its implementation encourages some pupils to attend school more regularly through the implementation of specific measures, for example:
- Registering pupils accurately and efficiently.
- Setting attendance targets for individual pupils, the school and specific year groups (where applicable).
- Contacting parents the same day when reasons for absence are unknown or unauthorised.
- At least weekly, monitoring pupil attendance and punctuality.
- Regularly reporting school attendance statistics to parents, the governing board, the LA and the DfE as appropriate.
To promote good attendance, the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders need to be explicit, to ensure that everyone is aware of their duties.
Roles and responsibilities
All children of compulsory school age (5-16) should receive suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. If a child is registered at a school, parents have a legal responsibility to ensure that their child attends regularly. They should also ensure that they are fully aware of the school’s Attendance Policy and adhere to it.
The parents’ responsibilities
To help parents fulfil their important role in their children’s education, and for them to be as informed as possible in any communications or discussions with teachers, parents are requested and encouraged, to the extent feasible:
- To ensure their child attends school regularly and punctually.
- To notify the school if their child cannot attend for any reason – this is for the child's security as well as for administrative reasons.
- To work with the school and the attendance officer to resolve/alleviate any attendance problems or protracted absence.
- To attend meetings as required in relation to their child’s attendance.
- To ensure they obtain an authorised 'leave of absence' for their child for all term time holiday requests and attend the follow up meeting with the school and governor for attendance in all instances.
To discharge their agreed responsibilities, parents should always:
- Encourage good attendance, making sure that their child goes to school regularly and arrives on time.
- Take an interest in their child's schoolwork.
- Make sure their child understands that they do not approve of absence from school.
- Support the school in its efforts to control inappropriate behaviour.
- Inform the school on the first day of non-attendance.
- Cooperate with the school staff to make sure their child overcomes his or her attendance problems and gets a proper education.
- Discuss planned absences with the school and apply for permission well in advance.
Parents should not normally:
- Expect the school to agree to shopping trips during school hours.
- Take their own family holidays outside of the school holidays.
- Take their own family holidays during test time.
- Expect the school to agree to their child missing school for any family holidays, or submit two leave of absence requests in any one school year.
In order for pupils to take responsibility for their own attendance, they should:
- Be actively encouraged to attend school regularly, and to arrive punctually at school and at the start of lessons after break.
- Inform staff if there is a problem that may lead to their absence, e.g. bullying, racism.
- Use their best endeavours to pass on absence notes from parents to their class teacher. and to pass school correspondence to their parents.
- Be encouraged to understand the importance of attending school and know that it is compulsory to attend school regularly.
- Understand that only ‘real’ illnesses could be a reason for authorised absences.
- Understand, contribute and adhere to the school’s Child-Friendly Attendance Policy.
The governing board is legally responsible for many aspects of school management, including the attendance register; however, the headteacher manages the day-to-day running of the school and, in doing so, takes responsibility for the day-to-day implementation of the Attendance Policy.
To discharge their agreed responsibilities, it is suggested that governors should:
- Meet to discuss whole school attendance regularly (at least termly).
- Ensure they are kept updated on all attendance-related issues, and monitor termly school attendance data (LA data) and external Analyse School Performance data.
- Ensure that a designated governor is able to assist with attendance reviews/parent contracts and meetings where required.
- Decide clearly on the policy towards poor attendance for non-compulsory school age children (nursery) – e.g. removal from roll at an agreed point (following intervention and a further decrease in attendance levels).
- Monitor the school’s annual attendance target (if applicable) and its progress towards this on a termly basis.
- Provide training for all attendance leads on at least a termly basis.
- Ensure the children missing in education protocols are adhered to stringently.
Ofsted expectations with attendance
The protocols for attendance will be closely reviewed as part of the safeguarding aspect of the inspection; however, attendance is also an important part of the personal development and welfare judgement – pupils need to attend school regularly so that they can achieve their true potential.
Schools must evidence that:
- They regularly monitor the attendance of key groups of pupils and link with any specific interventions that the school uses to improve attendance of such key groups.
- Leaders have linked attendance and have strategies to improve in pupil progress reviews.
- School leaders have looked at school attendance patterns and have strategies to improve, e.g. breakfast provision for pupils with high levels of lateness.
- They provide regular training updates for staff on issues with attendance.
- They track the attendance of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities that have poor attendance.
- They look at case studies of impact upon the attendance of particular groups.
- The focus of the curriculum is changed to engage key groups, such as boys, so that they are far more likely to attend as they are engaged.
- They hold regular meetings with pupils that are a concern, but are not persistently absent.
- They provide attendance awards.
- School leaders track attendance of pupils at alternative provision.
The key question that Ofsted inspectors will consider is: What are school leaders doing to promote regular attendance of all pupils so that pupils can achieve better outcomes in school?
GOV.UK (n.d.) ‘School attendance and absence’ <https://www.gov.uk/school-attendance-absence/overview> [Accessed: 17 July 2017]