PA0128

Written evidence submitted by Supporting Attainment and Inclusion for Life

 

Solving the attendance crisis in the UK

Supporting Attainment and Inclusion for Life

 

Introduction

 

Our organisation, Supporting Attainment and inclusion for Life (SAILs), uses a systemic occupational psychology model to support children, young people, families, schools and wider agencies with the reintegration of children back into education, specifically those with special educational needs and disabilities.  As senior leaders and SEN specialists in the education sector we have seen first hand the difficulty we face as a sector in reintegrating the 250,000 children currently missing from education. The attendance crisis is affecting pupils with SEND , but from disadvantaged backgrounds and minority ethnic backgrounds, as well. We have seen the consequences of missing school can have, and the long-lasting impacts on a child's education, mental health, and overall well-being. This highlights the need for a comprehensive plan to address the attendance crisis and ensure that all pupils have the opportunity to attend school and receive a quality education.

 

SAILs aims to readdress the issues by tackling the issue head on an ameliorating the difficulties created by a lack of funding, shortage of qualified staff, limited access to mainstream education, inadequate assessment and identification of SEND, limited access to appropriate equipment and facilities, limited access to therapy and support services, limited access to extra-curricular activities, and limited access to appropriate technology and assistive devices (National Audit Office, 2018; National Association of Head Teachers, 2020; British Educational Research Association, 2020; National Autistic Society, 2018; Education Policy Institute, 2019 & 2020).

 

The aim of this analysis is to outline the steps the UK government can take to solve the attendance crisis and support schools and families to improve attendance among all groups of pupils. The analysis will consider the impact of the Department’s proposed reforms, including the rewriting of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 and setting new thresholds for the national framework for issuing fixed penalty notices. Additionally, it will consider the role of initiatives such as school breakfast clubs, free school meals, the Holiday Activities and Food programme, and after-school and holiday clubs in improving attendance and engagement with school for disadvantaged pupils.  Finally, solutions for implementation will also be set out and how Occupational Psychologists may be able to support.

 

II. Disadvantaged Pupils

A. Causes of persistent and severe absence:

Disadvantaged pupils in the UK are often more likely to experience persistent and severe absence from school, which can negatively impact their educational outcomes and future prospects. Research suggests that poverty and social disadvantage are key drivers of poor attendance among this group of pupils. For example, a 2020 report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that pupils eligible for free school meals were almost three times more likely to be persistently absent from school than their peers.

 

B. Solutions:

To address this issue, the government can support schools and families to improve attendance among disadvantaged pupils. One key solution is the provision of school breakfast clubs and free school meals, which have been shown to have a positive impact on attendance and engagement with school. A 2019 study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that providing free school meals to all pupils in England reduced levels of persistent absence by around 3 percentage points.

 

C. Implementation:

Occupational psychologists can play a key role in supporting the implementation of these solutions, by working with schools and families to identify and address the root causes of persistent and severe absence among disadvantaged pupils. For example, they can provide individualized support and guidance to pupils and families, working with schools to develop targeted interventions and support programs. Occupational psychologists can also provide training and support to school staff, helping them to identify and address barriers to attendance and engagement, and work with schools to develop a supportive and inclusive learning environment for disadvantaged pupils.

 

III. Pupils from Minority Ethnic Backgrounds

A. Causes of Persistent and Severe Absence

Research suggests that pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to experience persistent and severe absence from school compared to their white British peers (OFSTED, 2021). Cultural, linguistic and socio-economic barriers are some of the reasons for this disparity (NUTE, 2020). A report by the National Union of Teachers (NUTE, 2020) highlights that some pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds face discrimination and racism in schools, which can lead to a lack of engagement and motivation to attend school. Furthermore, these pupils may have less support from their families, who may not have a good understanding of the education system or face language barriers (NUTE, 2020).

 

B. Solutions

To address the persistent and severe absence among pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds, the UK government can take several steps. Firstly, schools should create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all pupils, which promotes cultural sensitivity and reduces discrimination and racism (NUTE, 2020). This can be achieved through regular training and development for teachers, which raises awareness and understanding of different cultures (NUTE, 2020).

 

C. Implementation

Occupational psychologists can play an important role in the implementation of solutions to improve attendance among pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds. They can provide training and development for teachers and support staff on cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness in schools (NUTE, 2020). Occupational psychologists can also work with schools to identify and address the individual needs of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds, which can lead to improved attendance and engagement with school (NUTE, 2020).

 

IV. Pupils with SEND and those who are Clinically Vulnerable to COVID-19

A. Causes of Persistent and Severe Absence:

Pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 face unique challenges when it comes to attendance at school. Research has found that pupils with SEND are more likely to experience persistent absence, with data from the Department for Education indicating that absence rates are as much as three times higher for these pupils compared to those without SEND (Department for Education, 2021). Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly challenging for these pupils to attend school due to heightened health concerns, a lack of access to appropriate therapy and support services, and the shift to remote learning.

 

With SEND children the issue is slightly more complex, as they require a provision that is additional to and different from the normal provision on offer, and is therefore more systemic in nature.  For example, there is a disproportionate rate of persistent

absence for SEND following the COVID pandemic and the systemic issue of not having enough appropriate school provisions for them has led to a generation of ‘ghost children’ (Centre for social Justice, 2021).

 

B. Solutions:

The government can support schools and families to improve attendance among pupils with SEND and those who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 by providing access to appropriate therapy and support services. This could include speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, and mental health support, as well as access to assistive technology and devices. It is also important to consider the unique needs of these pupils when it comes to remote learning, such as providing additional support with technology and ensuring that online learning materials are accessible. Additionally, the government can work with schools to develop policies that are inclusive and accommodating of the needs of pupils with SEND and those who are clinically vulnerable.

 

C. Implementation:

Occupational psychologists can play a critical role in the implementation of these solutions by working with schools and families to identify the specific needs of pupils with SEND and those who are clinically vulnerable. This could include conducting assessments to determine the most appropriate support services and technologies for these pupils, as well as providing training and support to school staff to ensure that they are equipped to accommodate the needs of these pupils. Additionally, occupational psychologists can help to develop and implement policies that are inclusive and culturally sensitive, working with schools to create a supportive environment that is conducive to improved attendance.

 

We at Supporting Achievement and Inclusion for Life (SAILs), have managed to successfully develop a reintegration programme for individuals that have fallen out of education.  These individuals largely have psychological disorders, including neurodevelopmental, conduct and brain injury.  For these individuals, there is provision available but the gap between their needs and the provision available is too large to bridge without professional support.  So far, 100% of young people have sustainably reintegrated back into either education or work full-time.  The method utilises the training cycle, as part of an Occupational Psychological approach, with core aspects of coaching, online learning, virtual group learning and planning is used to facilitate the reintegration.

 

V. Pupils in Alternative Provision

A. Causes of Persistent and Severe Absence

Pupils in alternative provision often face a range of challenges that contribute to their persistent and severe absence from school. Research has shown that these pupils are often from disadvantaged backgrounds and face a range of social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties that impact their school attendance (Gibb & Stott, 2018). Additionally, these pupils are often disengaged from education and have limited family support and networks, which can further contribute to their absence (Department for Education, 2020).

 

B. Solutions

To address the persistent and severe absence among pupils in alternative provision, the government can take a number of steps to better support schools and families. One solution is to provide more holiday activities and food programs, as well as after-school and holiday clubs, to engage these pupils in educational activities and provide them with a supportive environment outside of school (Department for Education, 2020). Additionally, providing access to counseling and mental health support can help these pupils to address their social and emotional difficulties, which can have a positive impact on their school attendance (Department for Education, 2020).

 

C. Implementation

Occupational psychologists can play a key role in supporting the implementation of these solutions by working with schools and families to develop and deliver programs that address the specific needs of pupils in alternative provision. For example, they can provide training and support to school staff on how to better engage these pupils and provide a supportive environment, and they can work with families to address any barriers to attendance, such as lack of access to transportation or support at home (Department for Education, 2020). Additionally, occupational psychologists can help to assess the impact of these interventions and evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches, which can inform future policy and practice (Department for Education, 2020).

 

VI. Department's Proposed Reforms

The Department for Education (DfE) in England has proposed reforms to improve school attendance by modernizing the recording of attendance and admission registers and setting new thresholds for issuing fixed penalty notices. The current proposals focus on two key areas: simplification of absence codes and the sharing of register data electronically, and setting national thresholds for when fixed penalty notices must be considered.

 

A. First proposal

Under the first proposal, the DfE intends to simplify absence codes, with all absences recorded as either present or absent. This would include approved educational activities being recorded as present. Additionally, all registers must be completed electronically, with the aim of directly sharing register data from management information systems to local authorities and the DfE.

 

 

Questions on data sharing from the admission and attendance register:

 

Question 1.1. Do you agree that registers should be kept electronically?

Answer 1.1.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 1.2. Do you agree that local authorities should have access and be able to take extracts from the admission register and attendance register of all schools to enable them to carry out their statutory functions?

Answer 1.2.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 1.3. Do you agree that schools should make a ‘sickness return’ to inform their local authority when the authority should arrange alternative education for one of their pupils?

Answer 1.3.2. Somewhat agree

 

Question 1.4. Do you have any comments regarding data sharing?

Answer 1.4.1. N/A

 

 

Questions on the admission register:

 

Question 1.5. The current Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 include a ground of deletion from the admission register where a pupil of compulsory school age is certified by the school medical officer to be unlikely to be in a fit state of health to attend school before ceasing to be of compulsory school age. Do you agree that this ground of deletion should be removed in the new regulations?

1.5.4. Somewhat disagree

 

Question 1.6. Do you agree that another condition should be added to the grounds for deletion to allow a pupil’s name to be deleted in the circumstances below?

1.6.5. Strongly disagree

 

Question 1.7. Do you agree that where a pupil is the subject of an EHCP, CPP or CiNPthe consent of the local authority (or the Secretary of State, if local authority consent is not given) should be obtained before the pupil’s name can be deleted from the admission register, and state in guidance that this should only be used to allow the relevant plans to be updated?

Answer 1.7.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 1.8. Do you have any comments regarding the admission register?

Answer 1.8.1. N/A

 

 

Questions on the attendance register:

 

Question 1.9. Do you agree that recording in the attendance register should be simplified as described in the proposal above?

Answer 1.9.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 1.10. Do the proposed categories in draft regulation 10(2)(a) and (b) sufficiently capture all types of attendance and absence?

Answer 1.10.2. Somewhat agree

 

Question 1.11. Do you agree that attendance should be recorded in the same way for all pupils (both compulsory and non-compulsory school age)?

Answer 1.11.3. Neither agree nor disagree

 

Question 1.12. Do you agree that the new regulations should allow recording of approved remote education in the attendance register?

Answer 1.12.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 1.13. Is the proposed definition of approved remote education (at draft regulation 10(9)) sufficient?

Answer 1.13.2. Somewhat agree

 

Question 1.14. Do you agree that the definition of an approved educational activity should be strengthened?

Answer 1.14.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 15. Is the proposed definition of an approved educational activity at draft regulation 10(8) sufficient?

Answer 1.15.2. Somewhat agree

 

Question 1.16. Do you have any comments regarding the attendance register?

Answer 1.16.1. N/A

 

B. Second Proposal

The second proposal outlines the proposed national thresholds for when a fixed penalty notice must be considered. This includes 10 sessions of unauthorised absence, including lateness in a term when support has not been successful or is not appropriate, any unauthorised holiday in term time, any sessions of unauthorised absence immediately following a leave of absence in term time, and any instances of an excluded pupil being in a public place without reasonable justification during the first five school days of an exclusion.

 

 

Questions on thresholds of the new national framework on fixed penalty notices:

 

Question 2.1. Do you agree with the national thresholds, as set out in the proposal above, for the circumstances in which a penalty notice must be considered?

Answer 2.1.5. Strongly disagree

Answer 2.1.6. As set out above the reasons for the absence of children from education is more likely to be systemic than individualistic, therefore I cannot support the use of individual fixed penalty notices

 

Question 2.2. Do you agree that the maximum number of penalty notices that can be issued to each parent, per pupil, should be 2 per academic year?

Answer 2.2.1. Strongly agree

 

Question 2.3. Do you agree that, any person with authority to issue a fixed penalty notice should be required to check with the local authority before issuing one in order to prevent the duplication of penalty notices and to ensure that a penalty notice is not issued when a prosecution for the particular offence is being consider?

Answer 2.3.3. Neither agree nor disagree

 

Questions on the equalities impact:

 

Question 3.1 What do you consider to be the equalities impacts of the proposals on pupils, parents, groups of pupils or groups of parents who have or share each of the protected characteristics listed?

Answer 3.1. The potential impact of the department's proposed reforms under the

Equalities Act (2010) would depend on how the proposals are implemented and how they affect different groups of pupils, parents, and protected characteristics.  For example, if the proposals result in an increase in fixed penalty notices for pupils who are absent due to a disability, this could have a disproportionate impact on disabled pupils and their families, potentially infringing on their rights under the Equality Act (2010) to not be discriminated against on the grounds of disability.

 

Conclusion

 

The attendance crisis in UK schools is a pressing issue that affects pupils, families, and schools alike. To tackle this problem effectively, it is crucial to adopt a systemic and occupational psychological approach. By considering the various causes of persistent and severe absence among different groups of pupils, including those with SEND, clinically vulnerable to COVID-19, and those in alternative provision, it becomes possible to identify and implement appropriate solutions. The government can play a crucial role in this regard by providing better support to schools and families, including access to therapy, support services, and appropriate technology. Occupational psychologists can support the implementation of these solutions by working closely with schools and families to ensure that all pupils have access to the resources and support they need to thrive.

 

In addition, the department's proposed reforms, including the rewriting of the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 and the setting of new thresholds for the national framework for issuing fixed penalty notices, offer the potential to further improve attendance in UK schools. However, it is important to carefully consider the potential impacts of these proposals, including any potential impacts on pupils, parents, or groups of pupils or parents with protected characteristics under the Equalities Act (2010).

 

In conclusion, it is essential that the UK takes a systematic and evidence-based approach to addressing the attendance crisis in its schools. By providing better support to schools and families, and by ensuring that all pupils have access to the resources and support they need to thrive, it will be possible to significantly improve attendance and help all pupils reach their full potential.

 

February 2023