MPs investigate persistent absence and support for disadvantaged school pupils
The Education Committee holds the first session of itsinquiry into persistent absence, as government data shows school attendance levels remain worse than pre-pandemic.
Witnesses include Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, who recently published findings of her Attendance Audit, stating: “Thousands of children find themselves without the support that they need to engage in education and attend school.”
She will be joined by experts from the Centre for Social Justice think tank which published a report on the subject last year, as well the National Association of Head Teachers and Local Government Association (LGA).
A child is classified as ‘persistently absent’ if they miss 10% or more of school sessions, the equivalent to a fortnight across an academic year. ‘Severe absence’ is defined as missing 50% or more of sessions.
The Department for Education’s estimates for autumn term 2022/23 indicate that 25.2% of pupils across all state schools were recorded as persistently absent, compared with 10.9% in 2018/19. The cross-party Committee will ask witnesses to explain what the causes for this might be, and to discuss why persistent and severe absence rates differ between types of schools.
The Committee examines the role of local authorities, who have a statutory duty to ensure children receive a full-time education. The LGA has shown support for government guidance for how councils could work with schools, such as regularly sharing absence data, having dedicated staff to support families when risks such as bullying or domestic problems are identified, and holding termly multi-agency meetings on how to help individual families.
The witnesses will be asked to assess the effectiveness of legal measures for tackling absence, such as court-ordered parenting classes and providing families with supervisors. The most severe penalties for continued absence include fines and community service orders.
There will also be questions on the Government’s 2022 consultation on improving attendance data collection and setting thresholds for legal interventions.
MPs may raise issues such as exclusions, and whether financial pressures on schools may limit their ability to provide pastoral support to children who disengage or show signs of vulnerability.