There are many reasons why pupils miss school, with most absences easily explained and seamlessly recorded; however, sometimes absences occur through tragic circumstances and can leave children at risk of harm.

In October 2016, teacher Helen Daykin was working away from home when her husband, Chris, tragically died from heart failure. Chris was looking after their two young children, aged four and two.

Whilst the school followed their safeguarding procedures, the process failed to prevent the girls spending almost 24 hours with their father’s body.

This article looks at what you can do as a school leader to ensure your first day of absence processes safeguard pupils and leave nothing to chance.

What does good practice look like?

Record keeping and communication

It is important to make sure record keeping and communication is effective, this means:

  • Four contact names and numbers should be held for every pupil.
  • Ensuring registers are taken promptly and passed to the appropriate person.
  • All absence messages and phone calls should be acknowledged and actioned immediately.
  • When all the information is available, a list of children who remain absent without explanation should be produced.

Contacting pupils’ contacts

Once a pupil has been identified as absent without explanation:

  • Call every contact on each pupil’s contact list at least twice – leave messages when there is no answer.
  • If you have a text message system, use this method in tandem with phone calls.
  • Where the pupil is known to external agencies, contact any relevant agency support.


Visiting the pupil’s home

If you have not received an acceptable explanation as to the pupil’s whereabouts:

  • Make an immediate home visit.
  • If there is no response at the home, contact children’s services and/or the police and request a welfare visit.
  • If you can see the child inside the house avoiding you, refer to children’s services and/or the police if you believe the pupil to be at risk of significant harm.

What’s next?

  • Ensure your policies and procedures reflect best practice.
  • Inform parents of your policies and procedures, and request additional contact details if necessary. TheSchoolBus has a template letter than can be used both to obtain contact details and to inform parents of your policy regarding unexplained absences.