It’s terrific that Department for Education absence stats released this week for the last academic year show a very welcome reduction in the number of children who are persistently absent from school. 67,000 fewer children missed 15% or more of their school sessions.
We know that there is a clear link between attendance and attainment, so it is very positive that so many more children will be benefiting from their education. For 30 years, School-Home Support (SHS) has been partnering with schools to support families to increase the attendance of their children in order to boost their life-chances.
Working with more than 150 schools last year, SHS’s highly trained practitioners support school and local authorities to address persistent absence by working with children and their families to address the underlying causes of absence. 77% of the persistently absent children SHS worked with increased their attendance, with 94% of those out of the category within the school year. On average, they benefited from an extra seven weeks in school across the year. If you’d like to know more, read more about how we support children and families here.
Disappointingly, whilst the downward trend in persistent absence is very positive, the data also shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to be persistently absent than their peers. Children who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) are over three times more likely to be persistently absent than their non-FSM classmates.
This difference in attendance is mirrored in the attainment gap between children from poorer backgrounds and those from more affluent backgrounds. The attainment gap has remained stubbornly high despite the £1.9 billion spent through the Pupil Premium scheme.
As we called for in our manifesto, schools need to use the funding to provide effective and targeted interventions to increase attainment. Two key issues that all schools should focus on are, first, getting children in to school, ready to learn. Second, and a great way of supporting the first, is improving their links to parents and families. Research clearly shows that when parents are actively engaged in their child’s learning it has a really positive impact on attainment. Schools need to look at how they most effectively work with all parents in their community, those that resist contacts as well as those that come willingly through the door. They will see an improvement in behaviour, attendance and attainment if they do this well.
Schools should be congratulated on their work over the last couple of years which has reduced the number of students missing too much school. However, there are still a quarter of a million children missing at least 15% of school sessions and in many cases, they are missing much more. There needs to be a continued emphasis on reducing absence and this must be targeted at children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds so that we can close the gap in attainment that has persisted for too long.