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Children in England are missing weeks, months and years of their education

According to the most recent government data, 1.5 million children are persistently absent from school – missing on average five weeks over the year. They are missing weeks, months, even years of their education, severely affecting their future life chances.

Schools are doing their best, but they can’t do it all. Having great teachers can’t help children if they aren’t in school. Most parents want the best for their children, but getting them to school can be hard for families in crisis.

Demand for family support services around schools has never been greater, since the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis, but funding has been slow to keep up. Based on the data we’ve collected over a six year period, one quarter of Early Help referrals from schools for family support were returned without action.

That’s why we are launched our ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ campaign that called on the Government to help schools and families by funding more family support to tackle the root causes of persistent absence early on before they escalate.

Support our campaign if you want to help build a stronger bridge between home and school for all families so all children can be in school and ready to learn. If we ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ and take the time to find out what’s going on at home we can solve absence problems in a lasting way.

  • Persistent absence refers to when a child misses more than 10% of their schooling – which equates to around 20 days in a full academic year. This is the point at which educational attainment becomes affected for that child, severely affecting their future life chances.
  • According to Government funded research for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the annual cost per individual missing at least 5 weeks of school (those below the Persistent Absence threshold) is £2,166.
  • For each percentage point of unauthorised absence, the likelihood of permanent exclusions increases at the same rate, according to the government’s Timpson Review published in May 2019.
  • According to the 2017 Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) Making the Difference report, each excluded pupil costs the state around £370,000 in additional education benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs across a lifetime equating to an additional £2.8 billion cost to the Treasury for the 2018/19 yearly cohort of (7,894) excluded pupils.
  • A 2012 report from New Philanthropy Capital, Misspent youth: The costs of truancy and exclusionestimated the total cost of regular school absence to the economy was £800m per year or £8.8bn for the 11 years a child is typically in school. This analysis found that the average unit cost of a young person who is regularly absent from school is £44,468 (over the working lifetime of the child).
  • Analysis of the impact of persistent school absence on individual areas of public policy finds that the lifetime extra cost of crime committed by a truanting child is £6,776 and £33,694 in lost earnings. The report also suggests an aggregate saving of £3.8bn (adjusted for 2020 prices) would be made if all preventable persistent school absence was addressed, the equivalent of £354m per annum.
  • A return-on-investment analysis for returning a persistently absent young person to school and improving attendance found that every £1 spent produced £11.60 in savings over the working lifetime of the child. Half of these savings accrue to the individual and half to the taxpayer. The report notes this represents a potential annual saving of £250m per annum.  

Jakub’s story

16 year old Jakub was feeling disengaged from his learning and was lacking the motivation to prioritise his education. His attendance had fallen to 63%. Working with School-Home Support practitioner Zoe, Jakub developed aspirations for his future which helped him reconnect with school, knowing he had something to work towards.
Read the full case study about Jakub’s story
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Tackling the root causes of persistent absence

Disadvantaged families are most at risk of persistent absence. We need to ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ to understand why so many children are struggling with school.

The reasons for absence are different for each family.  It takes time and trust to understand how best to help. There are no quick fixes.

Family Support practitioners don’t start talking about absence straight away, they listen. 

Common barriers to school attendance can include poverty, undiagnosed SEND, eviction, domestic abuse, unsupported mental health issues and many more complex and often overlapping issues.

Until the underlying causes of poor attendance are tackled through support, improved attendance doesn’t last.

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Our proposal to solve the school absence problem

We’re calling on the Government to do more to get practical support to families now.

We’re asking the Government to commit £90.2 million to pay for a service of family support practitioners to support the 19 Priority Education Investment Areas where persistent absence currently exceeds the national average of 12.1%.

This would provide 2,225 practitioners nationally, supporting 194,000 children and their families based on the School-Home Support whole family support model.

Our costed plan proposes that the policy is funded from existing government funding for families, including the Supporting Families Programme.

With this upfront investment, we can halve the cost of tackling persistent absence. It costs School-Home Support approximately £1,000 to fund one tailored plan, per child per year. Compare £1,000 to the £2,166 annual cost per individual missing at least 5 weeks of school (those below the persistent absence threshold).

There are no quick fixes

By digging a little deeper and investing in family support early on we can tackle the underlying causes of absence, improving outcomes for the child as well as the wider family in the longer term.

We welcome the growth in breakfast clubs and other wrap-around activities to improve attendance, but they do little to change the home life the child returns to, so can only be part of the solution.

Whole Family Support strengthens the bridge between families and school, bringing education into the heart of the home, so all can benefit with improved outcomes, skills, resilience, and horizons.

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Growing need for early family support

As part of our work, we’ve released new freedom of information (FOI) data which reveals that there was a 156% increase in the number of referrals for Early Help between 2018 and 2022. Staggeringly, a quarter of these Early Help referrals, designed specifically to ensure families and schools get support from their local authority, were returned to schools without action.

Councils are in a difficult position. Struggling to meet their statutory duties to provide social care services, many have been forced to cut preventative services like family support. As family support services like Early Help and Family Hubs aren’t statutory, funding hasn’t kept pace with growing need.

Disadvantaged families are most at risk of persistent absence, with data from the Department for Education showing that 35% of children eligible for free school meals were persistently absent in autumn 2021 and spring 2022, compared with 18% of pupils who were not eligible.

  • Findings from our freedom of information requests revealed that a quarter of Early Help Referrals made by schools were returned to the school for action.
  • From 2018 to 2022, there was a 156% increase in the number of referrals and a 96% increase in the average number of referrals being returned for school action.
  • Schools referring families to Local Authorities for Early help too often find that requests are returned without action. i.e. the severity of the case didn’t meet current thresholds. As Early Help isn’t a statutory service and funding hasn’t kept pace with growing need, schools have low expectations of support they can get for families they know need help. Families who need support aren’t getting it and schools are left trying to support families who need more bespoke help.
  • As the circumstances driving increased need for support show no sign of abating. We expect the next couple of years will show similar increases in referrals as well as the number of referrals being returned due to the high demand unless new resources are allocated to family support.
  • A Freedom of Information request by Action for Children reveals an estimated 64,000 children a year are missing out on early help services and then being re- referred to children’s social care within 12 months. 9 out of 10 Local authorities cut early intervention spending between April 2015 and April 2020. For every two children that receive preventative targeted early help support, there are three children receiving more costly social care interventions. The report shows big variations of early help provision around the country.

Why our model works

The upfront investment in family support practitioners will generate significant long-term savings which can then be used elsewhere in education. Using our model and approach, the Government could halve the cost of tackling persistent absence. 

It costs School-Home Support approximately £1,000 to support one tailored plan per child per year, compared to the £2,166 cost for that same child missing at least 5 weeks of school.

According to our latest impact data, scaling family support around schools could offer impressive benefits across the Priority Education Investment Areas, helping 7 in 10 persistently absent children and young people to spend an average of 6 more weeks in school, with improved attendance.

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Thomas’ story

School-Home Support works with a number of children who have ADHD, like Thomas, aged 11, whose attendance was just 32.5% when he was referred to us. Thomas was struggling to make positive relationships with his peers and his behaviour often caused conflicts and distraction within the classroom and in the playground. At home, Thomas’ mum found it difficult to maintain boundaries, and often allowed Thomas to stay home from school to avoid conflicts.
Read the full case study about Thomas’ story
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Get in touch

If you have any questions about our ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ campaign or want to know more about School-Home Support, get in touch filling in the form.

If you’re contacting from the press and want to ask us about a story you’re covering contact:

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