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An increased emphasis on school attendance is becoming apparent across educational provisions in recent years. The rigorous scrutiny that comes with Ofsted inspections is reinforcing the link between non-attendance and safeguarding, given that it is assessed within the ‘Behaviour and Safety’ category. As an Education Welfare Service, we welcome this change and prioritisation.
Attendance undeniably has a ‘domino effect’ on everything else schools are aspiring to achieve and improve upon. This includes the behaviour, safeguarding, well-being, social development and attainment of pupils. Given this, the emphasis and scrutiny placed on attendance and the pressures to decrease absence levels, is justified and indeed essential to all educational settings. Educational settings must do all they can to ensure that pupil attendance is promoted in whichever ways this can be achieved, irrespective of the pupil’s needs and profile.
What we have recognised is that the overall level of absence in a setting is not necessarily reflective of their systems to manage non-attendance. Take the London Borough of Croydon as an example. It is a hugely diverse borough, as are the pupil cohorts from one school to the next. Schools therefore often develop their strategies, knowledge base and systems to support their pupil cohort. Whilst this is understandable, it is felt that such schools are less likely to identify and confidently manage complex situations that are not necessarily common to their school, but are increasingly common across the borough or local area.
It is evident that some schools with high numbers of ‘complex children and/or families’ but lower attendance figures, manage to quickly equip themselves to respond to the evolving needs of their pupil cohorts and families. Such schools demonstrate high levels of resilience, competence and know-how in both identifying concerns and working relentlessly with hard-to-reach families and professionals across agencies. These schools reflect on their findings and constantly review, evaluate and update their procedures. Such adaptability is inspiring and reassuring for professionals with which they work jointly and families alike.
Improved or good attendance figures do not measure how well a school responds to the concerns pertaining to non-attendance. Where commendable attendance levels are reached by schools, this is not automatically indicative of robust systems or measures implemented to promote attendance and safeguarding. Neither is it a measure of the school’s aptitude to identify and swiftly address prevalent issues by working closely with other professionals. There is a risk that overall attendance figures deemed as being ‘good enough’ may mask a significant issue of a school not having vigorous systems and knowledge underpinning this. The figures give school leaders the impression that their school is successfully managing and identifying relevant attendance and safeguarding concerns.
This is often not the case. Good figures tend to disguise the requirement to professionally develop staff members in areas highly relevant to their attendance and safeguarding roles. I have experienced schools sensing ‘no need’ to use valued resources in areas satisfying school leaders and Ofsted and thus dismissing opportunities to develop school resilience and knowledge on key areas that may be affecting their pupils. It is concerning that schools and individual professionals are losing the opportunity to learn from one another, share ideas, gain support and understanding, as well as network with others in similar situations within their locality.
Although a resource crisis is affecting us all as a discipline, it is worth considering whether the issues raised here are relevant to your setting. Irrespective of what your overall attendance figures may be, do you feel that the school is prepared to deal with the possible yet extreme ‘what ifs’ prevalent in today? Are your staff accessing relevant and sufficient professional development opportunities to keep abreast of changes? Is your school ensuring that attendance management and associated safeguarding responsibilities and processes are rigorously supervised, monitored and reviewed? Is your school taking a proactive stance to worst-case scenarios or a potentially reactive one?
Bhavika is our Education Welfare Service Lead. The team offer a wide range of support packages and services, including INSET training, to help your school tackle issues surrounding attendance and safeguarding which may be affecting your school. To view the team’s service brochure click here.
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