PA0141

Written evidence submitted by Family Action

 

Family Action overview

Family Action is a national charity committed to building stronger families and brighter lives. Since the charity was founded in 1869, we have continued to help children and families overcome the challenges they face through a wide range of practical, emotional and financial support. Today we work with more than 60,000 families in some 200 community-based services, as well as supporting thousands more through our national helpline, FamilyLine, welfare and educational grants and the National School Breakfast Programme. A number of our services can provide insight into school attendance, as we run young carers support, SENDIAS and behavioural support services across England.

National School Breakfast Programme

Family Action has been delivering the National School Breakfast Programme (NSBP) since April 2018. We worked with a total of 2400 schools in the previous programme 2018 – July 2021 alongside Magic Breakfast (‘the initial programme’), and up to 2500 schools in the current programme, July 2021 – present (with the programme currently funded until July 2024). Breakfast on the programme is provided free of charge to children (as opposed to paid childcare breakfast provisions) and may be delivered in a variety of ways – through a breakfast club, at the school gate or in playground, at grab and go sites within school or in the classroom before the start of the school day.

Despite many schools having an existing breakfast club when they join the NSBP, the majority of these are small clubs that have a cost to parents. In our previous programme, 84% of schools had an existing club, however the vast majority were small, chargeable childcare provisions, and all schools expanded their breakfast to provide breakfast free of charge to target children. 89% of these schools also started a new additional model of breakfast to accompany a breakfast club such as classroom, playground or grab and go breakfasts.

Further detail about the NSBP can be found here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-school-breakfast-club-programme and our impact is described here https://www.family-action.org.uk/content/uploads/2021/12/NSBP-final-impact-report.pdf; https://www.family-action.org.uk/content/uploads/2022/11/NSBP-One-Pager.pdf

We know from delivering this programme, and the feedback we receive from teachers, that introducing the NSBP, providing a free of charge breakfast without barrier or stigma, can have a positive impact on school attendance, particularly of disadvantaged pupils.

99% of headteachers surveyed at the end of the initial programme reported that the NSBP had been important for improving readiness to start the school day and 94% said that it was important for educational attainment. Headteachers were also surveyed during the programme about late marks data and provided their late marks for the full term before the NSBP and then following the NSBP being implemented. The data provided showed a 28% reduction in late marks following the introduction of the breakfast programme. We have included data on lateness, both because of the link that school staff believe exists between poor punctuality being the starting point of a pattern of poor attendance, and the cumulative effect on the number of lost school hours occurring from persistent lateness.

In the current programme, we will survey Headteachers on the impact the programme has had on attendance once free breakfast provision is fully embedded in their school. Each school completes a baseline survey when they begin the current programme, which includes a question about the extent to which attendance levels were a problem for pupils at their school before the NSBP (1 = Not a problem at all, 10 = a very big problem.) 1252 Headteachers have responded to this particular question so far, with an average score of 6 out of 10. We expect to receive further baseline data over the coming weeks as schools are still joining the programme and completing their baseline survey.

Following a school’s implementation of the NSBP, we will conduct another survey from April this year (depending when schools started the programme), asking them if introducing the programme has had a positive impact on attendance levels. We should have initial data on this by May 2023, and would welcome the chance to present this evidence to the Committee.

In addition to these surveys, we run programme satisfaction surveys with those who lead breakfast provision within the school twice a year in June and December. So far, we have received a number of comments on how the programme has improved attendance in schools on the programme, including:

“We have seen an improvement from offering breakfast food for those children with poor attendance and punctuality. Not only are they more ready to begin their lessons in class, but we can see their confidence/self-esteem and social skills flourish too.” - Primary School Safeguarding and Welfare Officer

“It has helped provide extra support to families with issues around attendance and punctuality and given another way of supporting families in these areas.” - Nursery and Infant School Headteacher.

“It's making a huge difference to our pupils. Behaviour, is improving, attendance through the pandemic is way above national. I'm sure that a breakfast is contributing towards a better outlook for the day ahead.”- Academy Deputy Headteacher

“Students who were regularly late to school are now here early to grab their bagel. This is having a positive impact to the school's attendance agenda.” – Academy Principal

Case Study Initial Programme - Wheldon Infant School and Nursery

Wheldon Infant School and Nursery, a school in the initial programme, opted to start a before-school breakfast club to provide low-cost childcare, and  offered some targeted places to vulnerable families alongside working families. They felt this allowed for a more holistic and calmer start to the day. In addition, they ran a classroom bagel model which ensured food was available to all children at the start of the school day.

The school reported that the NSBP improved attendance in their school from around 80% to 93-95%. The breakfast offer was also highlighted in the school’s 2019 Ofsted report: “The actions you have taken to address the high absence rate of pupils, such as introducing the breakfast club, are improving the school’s overall attendance figure swiftly towards the national average.”

Case Study Current Programme - St Francis de Sales Catholic Infant & Nursery School

The school joined the NSBP in November 2021. Joining the National School Breakfast Programme enabled them to run a classroom bagel model in addition to their breakfast club enabling them to reach all children in the school at the start of the school day. 

The school has reported that the programme has improved attendance in their school and had a huge impact on persistent absenteeism which reduced from 16.31% to 8.5% in the year they introduced the breakfast club.  Whole school attendance increased from 94.2% to 95.7%.

The school received the Attendance Quality Mark in January 2022 (Gold Award) due to the whole school approach to improving and maintaining good attendance.  The Breakfast Club and free breakfast provided to every child, every day, has helped encourage good attendance and improved punctuality.

“Punctuality and attendance has improved significantly. Children look forward to their bagel every morning and this encourages them to come to school.” - Headteacher Laura Melia

 

SEND

We are concerned that we are still waiting for a formal response from Government on the consultation on the SEND Green paper, as we know from our SENDIAS services, and services that support families waiting for diagnosis, that the school system is really struggling to meet the needs of these children, affecting attendance through a combination of school refusal, behavioural issues leading to suspension or parents removing their children from the school environment, but not necessarily being able to provide appropriate home schooling.

 

Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) are increasingly seen as a tool to force mainstream schools to make what should be routine adjustments to support needs and the numbers of applications are now putting huge strain on the whole system, delaying support for the children who need it most. Schools often focus on the EHCP, but if a child doesn’t have one, it does not mean they do not have support needs. EHCPs and support derived from them still heavily rely on parents’ ability to advocate for themselves and parents require more clarity about which children EHCPs are intended for. There are huge delays to get diagnosis, EHCPs and then for schools to make adjustments, where they have enough budget to do so, so the length of absence from school can be particularly lengthy and disruptive.

Another fundamental issue is that Local Authorities are not always best placed to decide which schools families can consider for their child, as they do not necessarily have the expertise to know this, and families often feel that LAs focus on their budget rather than the best placement options. We must try not to force children down a mainstream route because of cost and lack of Alternative Provision. Where children are within mainstream schooling, a trauma informed, relationship-based approach is needed for behaviour management. This needs to be part of the whole school approach and there needs to be adequate funding to support children in mainstream schooling, rather than it being seen as the cheap and easy option, as schools will need to balance expectations of other parents for their children to have a particular learning environment. Given pressures on school budgets, we know that whilst funding is often aimed at a specific child, it does not necessarily get spent on them directly. It is also likely that with the huge demand in the system, the money will mainly be spent on high level needs, reducing the chance of early intervention.

Behavioural Support

Since 2016 we have provided a Behaviour Outreach Support Service (BOSS) in Lincolnshire primary and secondary schools. The service provides an effective way of supporting challenging behaviour shown by children/young people in schools through targeted case work, transition support, light touch parent support and bespoke school support with training and a suite of training packages. This has evolved through modelling a trauma-informed, relational and solution-focused approach, with the aim of helping schools improve their ability to support pupils displaying behaviour that challenges and compromises their  learning and school attendance, or the learning of their peers. We believe that schools need to focus on relational approaches to behaviour management, rather than punitive approaches in order to support attendance and reduce exclusions Working in partnership across a number of agencies across the county has also supported the success of this approach.

 

Education and health services have collaborated successfully with schools to reduce the number of fixed-term and permanent exclusions for children and young people with SEND. Consequently, the rate of exclusions for this group of pupils is now lower than the national average for similar pupils… Joint commissioning of services in the local area is effective. This has supported schools in assessing and meeting children’s needs in a timely way. The behaviour outreach support service is a good example of joint commissioning.” Joint local area SEND inspection in Lincolnshire October 2018

 

We have seen the BOSS service have success at improving children’s and parents’ relationships with school, which encourages attendance, as well as a reduction in behavioural issues and exclusions. Since 2016, there has been a reduction in the percentage of permanent exclusions in Lincolnshire, from 0.15% in 2016 to 0.05% in 2020.

 

Case Study – Ben

“I found it challenging to behave in lessons and felt that my chances  of passing GCSE’s were very slim, so I had no motivation to go to school and did not enjoy being there. When I moved school and began working with BOSS, I felt as if it was a second chance. It gave me an opportunity to focus on schoolwork instead of messing around. Thanks to the support of teachers, the Youth Offending Team and Family Action, I felt like people wanted me to succeed, which made me want to succeed as well. I began to realise that I was smarter than I thought  I was, that maybe I could do it and maybe I could have a chance.”

“While I was in school, BOSS gave me a chance to talk about my feelings which really helped me at the time because I didn’t know anybody, and that was making me feel low and not want to come to school. I could have just been dumped, forgotten about, and left to find my own way but thanks to the   extra support I was given I began to feel wanted. I now have a place in college doing bricklaying and am excited for the next chapter of my life. All the people who didn’t believe in me and thought I was a waste of time I forgot about because the people who were on my side are still by my side today and are working tirelessly to help me succeed.”

 

Young Carers

We conducted research in 2012 into how we could support young carers’ education - https://www.family-action.org.uk/content/uploads/2014/06/Be-Bothered-Make-Education-Count-for-Young-Carers.pdf. and we believe little has changed given the anecdotal information we have from our services today. Our research highlighted the particular problems for this group and the danger of punishing some of the most vulnerable pupils for absence due to their caring roles, either through detention or through fining their families. Some parents have been warned with court action due to poor attendance records.

 

“The school knew everything but they didn’t make a very good job of it. They used to complain if he was off school even when I was very poorly in hospital. I spent nine weeks in hospital a couple of years ago and they thought they were going to lose me. Even in that period they were complaining if he was off of school for any reason”. Parent, Manchester

 

Given the pressure on schools to improve attendance, it is not a surprise that teachers place a lot of pressure on young carers to be in school. However, this pressure can colour the view of young carers towards school and teachers.

 

“School is bad because they hate me because I have time off because of my mum.” Young carer, Nottinghamshire

 

However, the young people we spoke to were also very clear that they wanted to go to school, not only to learn but also to get a break from their caring roles.

 

“It bothers me when I’m not in school because I like being at school because then you can be like a normal person for once you don’t have that kind of responsibility but in the back of your head when you are at school you’ve got like I need to go home and do this I need to get this sorted out I need to help with this and then it's just that gets on top of you really.” Young Carer, Durham

 

We created a ‘schools charter’ a number of years ago to help schools understand the effect young caring can have on children and young people, and how they can better support them. For example, attendance can be affected by children and young people’s anxiety for their family members’ health or ability to cope alone, or they may feel like they are misunderstood or stigmatised by their peers, and would prefer not to have that scrutiny on their lives. This is especially true where their school rules feel like part of the problem, such as refusing to allow them to have mobile phones on them during lessons, when they may want to be accessible at all times in case something happens to a family member.

 

“Sometimes school like just gets in the way of what you need to do like cos you have roles as a carer and everyone’s is different but it all kind of comes out in the same way so school sometimes is just not, not the option really so you’ve got to like help out, you’ve got to do your bit as a carer.” Young Carer Durham

 

Case Study – Sarah

Sarah is 14 and lives alone with her mum, Sandy. Sandy has a history of suicide attempts, but her anxiety and depression has been improving following enrolment on a college course. However, on Thursdays, Sandy has no course sessions, and is alone at home, which can trigger a deterioration in her mood. Sarah is aware of this, and her school have noticed a pattern of absences forming, as Sarah chooses to stay at home on Thursdays so that she can ‘keep an eye on’ her mum. Sarah’s school and Family Action are working with the family to explore Sarah’s role in the home with her and Sandy, supporting Sarah to feel less anxious when she is at school, and making sure that Sandy has access to appropriate healthcare and support so that Sarah does not feel it is up to her to provide this. Despite this, it is not a situation that is likely to ‘change overnight’, so the school expects that attendance may still fluctuate over the coming months.

 

February 2023