The release of the latest school absence data (bit.ly/uked14nov20) from the Department for Education in England revealed positive news, with declining overall absence rates and persistent absentees (those who miss more than 15% of sessions). In fact, absence is at its lowest since data was first collected in 2006.
This is obviously positive news; however, the inequality in attendance between the most disadvantaged children and their peers has remained stubbornly high. A child eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) or with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is over three times more likely to be persistently absent than their peers.
This inequality in attendance is mirrored when we look at the attainment of these disadvantaged children. In order to close this attainment gap, we need to take a look at the child’s whole environment and not just see schools as silos.
We know that a number of schools are funding services to go and pick children up from home to bring them into school to ensure that they are attending. This is a positive step; however, once in school, it is important that a child is ready to learn and not worry about what is happening at home. Research by School-Home Support found that children who were persistently absent faced a number of multiple and overlapping needs within the home, including substance misuse, mental and physical health issues, housing issues, poor family relationships and poverty.
In a recent report (bit.ly/uked14nov21), the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission highlighted the importance of strategies to engage parents in their child’s education. They noted that outreach and integration with other services are important steps to increase engagement. As highlighted above, many families face a number of complex needs, requiring support from many different services and agencies. School outreach workers or school-home practitioners are ideally placed to ensure that families receive the support they need, giving children a more stable home environment.
We have found that when a parent isn’t engaging with the school, it is often linked to their own experiences as a child. They see teachers as authority figures and are worried about what will happen if they open up about their challenges. This is when independent practitioners are able to break down barriers and bring parents into the school community.
Whilst persistent absence has decreased to 4.1%, there are still 262,255 children across England who are missing over 15% of their schooling. Persistent absence is a major factor in determining future life chances. Persistently absent pupils are four times less likely to achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE. Once leaving school, these children…
Jan Tallis is Chief Executive of School-Home Support, a national charity that tackles the underlying issues that affect a child’s ability to make the most of their education. Jan has worked across various roles in the third sector and is currently Chair of Governors at a secondary school in East London. Find Jan on Twitter @JanTallis.