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DfE Publishes New 'Working Together to Improve School Attendance' Guidance

on Wednesday, 25 May 2022.

The DfE has published new guidance for schools in tackling school attendance that will come into force from September 2022 (the guidance).

The guidance applies to all maintained schools, academy trusts and alternative provision providers and is accompanied by a summary table of responsibilities for school attendance. Whilst non-statutory at present, the DfE has confirmed that the Secretary of State has committed to the guidance becoming statutory no sooner than September 2023 (parliamentary time permitting). The guidance sits alongside the new Schools Bill, which, in Part 3, currently contains draft provisions to make statutory the requirement for schools to have a policy to promote regular attendance of registered pupils.  We focus here on the requirements for such policies. 

Why the Specific Focus on School Attendance?

School attendance has come into even sharper focus given the disruption faced by so many pupils due to the pandemic. The new guidance asks schools to work in close collaboration with local partners to address school attendance issues and improve school attendance across communities.

As part of this drive to improve school attendance, the DfE has set out within the guidance their expectations on how schools may practically address attendance issues, which will include the following actions to (as set out in the guidance):

  • Develop and maintain a whole school culture that promotes the benefits of high attendance.
  • Have a clear school attendance policy which all staff, pupils and parents understand.
  • Accurately complete admission and, with the exception of schools where all pupils are boarders, attendance registers and have effective day to day processes in place to follow-up absence.
  • Regularly monitor and analyse attendance and absence data to identify pupils or cohorts that require support with their attendance and put effective strategies in place.
  • Build strong relationships with families, listen to and understand barriers to attendance and work with families to remove them.
  • Share information and work collaboratively with other schools in the area, local authorities, and other partners when absence is at risk of becoming persistent or severe.

Developing an Attendance Policy

Schools will see reference in this list to developing a school attendance policy and the DfE is clear that the policy should reflect the expectations set out in the guidance. The DfE expects that as a minimum any policy will include (as set out in the guidance):

  • The attendance and punctuality expectations of pupils and parents, including start and close of the day, register closing times and the processes for requesting leaves of absence and informing the school of the reason for an unexpected absence.
  • Information and contact details of the school staff who pupils and parents should contact about attendance on a day to day basis (such as a form tutor, attendance officer etc) and for more detailed support on attendance (such as a head of year, pastoral lead or family liaison officer etc).
  • The school’s day to day processes for managing attendance, for example first day calling and processes to follow up on unexplained absence.
  • How the school is promoting and incentivising good attendance.
  • The school’s strategy for using data to target attendance improvement efforts to the pupils or pupil cohorts who need it most.
  • The school’s strategy for reducing persistent and severe absence, including how access to wider support services will be provided to remove the barriers to attendance and when support will be formalised in conjunction with the local authority.
  • The point at which Fixed Penalty Notices for absence and other sanctions will be sought if support is not appropriate (eg for an unauthorised holiday in term time), not successful, or not engaged with.

The policy should be published on a school's website and parents should be reminded of its contents on an annual basis. The policy should also be provided to all new starters to the school as a matter of course.

Key Factors for Multi-Academy Trusts

It is important to note that for multi-academy trusts, there is an expectation that the policy must be tailored for each school. The policy must reflect the particular needs of the pupil cohort and community specific factors that affect attendance at each school. Additionally, the guidance recognises that these factors may change on a regular basis and so the policy should be an evolving document, that reflects the views of parents and pupils at any given time.

Final Thoughts

Whilst many schools and trusts will no doubt already be practising the expectations set out in the guidance, there is a clear expectation from the DfE that schools will be working collaboratively with local partners such as local authorities, health services, local schools, voluntary and community groups and the police. It is expected that this drive in closer collaborations will ensure a consistently joined up approach to providing support to pupils and their families.

We will continue to provide updates on this guidance, as its status changes.

For more information on the new guidance, please contact Rosie Browne in our Regulatory Compliance team on 07384 817 992, or complete the form below.

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