Secretary of State for Education visits a partner school in Liverpool

Gillian Keegan visited a school where School-Home Support (SHS) provides whole family support services to tackle persistent absence.


We joined Gillian Keegan in Liverpool yesterday to talk about our work as part of the Department for Education’s (DfE) Liverpool Attendance Project. It was a chance to share insights about our model and approach and shine a light on the complex challenges many families in Liverpool face and which are barriers to good school attendance.

During the visit Gillian Keegan engaged with teachers, parents and students to gain firsthand insights into the multifaceted issues that contribute to chronic absenteeism. SHS CEO, Jaine Stannard and SHS Head of Family Intervention, Maggie Mitchell presented the whole family support model which is based on early intervention. The model provides tailored support for all members of the family and partners with statutory services and other organisations as part of a multi agency approach to tackling absence. The programme began in September 2023 and we are already seeing some promising signs of success. For example, for the persistently absent students whose attendance has improved, we have seen an average  6.3% increase which equates to an extra 12 days in school.

SHS work in Liverpool

Since being identified as a target area in October 2021, School-Home Support has been actively engaged in addressing attendance issues in Liverpool thanks to voluntary and government funding.

The latest pupil absence figures for the Autumn term 2022 and Spring term 2023 reveal that Liverpool has a persistent absence rate of 22.99% and a severe absence rate of 2.42% for pupils. In the academic year 2021/2022, these figures were 24.61% and 2.28%, respectively. These statistics indicate a sustained effort is needed to improve attendance in the area.

Thanks to our fabulous supporters, we have brought voluntary income amounting to £58,250 in 2022/23 and require continued funding to help even more families in Liverpool with attendance related issues. Additionally, funds for welfare, uniforms, and external grants from organisations like Buttle UK and Vanquis have supported families with items such as furniture, beds, laptops, bikes, and gym memberships.

The DfE Liverpool Attendance Project

The Department for Education (DfE) commissioned SHS to work in the area, acknowledging the persistent absence challenges in the region.

The Liverpool DfE Attendance Project, which started on 1 September 2023, outlines ambitious goals to reduce persistent and severe absence in line with the national average by 2030. The focus is on primary schools with persistent absence rates exceeding 30% and secondary schools exceeding 37%.

As part of the project, SHS is providing a team of full-time whole family support practitioners working across primary, secondary, and alternative provision schools in the city. Schools share access to the service and can refer families who will benefit from support.

“Our practitioners aren’t looking for quick fixes, but sustained improvements to pupil attendance achieved by building a constructive relationship between home and school.  They have the time and expertise to listen to families and help them tackle barriers to good school attendance. We empower families with the tools and support needed to overcome obstacles they face, fostering a collaborative effort that ensures every child’s sustained presence in school and academic success” Danielle Myerscough, School-Home Support Lead Coordinator in Liverpool. 

The Attendance Mentors Pilot will be extended

The visit coincides with a new Government announcement to invest £15 million to extend its Attendance Mentors Pilot which provides one to one support to pupils struggling with attendance.

According to the DfE, 3600 more pupils will benefit annually compared to 1600 children currently benefit from the pilot programme run last year. This extended programme will provide intensive one-to-one support to pupils who are persistently absent working with them and their families to find out why the child is skipping school.

Today’s announcement is a welcome step from the government as it affirms its commitment to a support led approach to tackling absence and is good news for the children and families who will benefit, but will leave many more without support. According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the expanded pilot will reach just 3 percent of severely absent children.

We look forward to working with the Government to share our expertise of the whole family support approach following the Education Select Committee (ESC) recommendation that the expanded programme ensures whole family support is central to what is delivered.

Julia’s story

Julia’s family faced significant challenges with school attendance and housing. Living in temporary accommodation, far from the school, and burdened by a substantial debt to their previous landlord, the family’s stress had taken a toll on Julia’s attendance, dropping to just 70%.

SHS whole family support practitioner James, stepped in to support the family. A referral was made to the Whitechapel Centre with a view to securing more permanent accommodation and addressing housing debt issues  James also provided transport passes to help with the cost of travel to and from the school. Additionally, James secured warm coats and hats through the SHS Uniform Fund, funded by our partner Vanquis, as winter approached.

The impact of James’s support has been transformative. Julia’s attendance has surged to 92%, with consistent punctuality. The travel passes have granted Julia’s family more freedom, enabling her to participate in school activities like drama club. This not only boosts Julia’s confidence and enjoyment of school but also enhances her language skills.

The family has now found more suitable housing, offering stability to pursue future goals. Julia’s mom expressed gratitude for the help she’d received from James acknowledging the positive impact on Julia’s school engagement and her family’s overall well-being.