PA0142

Written evidence submitted by the Raleigh Education Trust

 

The Raleigh Education Trust is a multi-academy trust comprising of five sponsored academies and acts as the Nottingham City Council Commissioner for Alternative Education. Holding the oversight of twenty-one alternative provision settings. The composition of sponsored academies is as follows:

 

 

Each setting brings a rich diversity to the Trust, with one common thread related to disengagement in education. This thread led to the Trust Board setting attendance as a critical priority as we emerged from the pandemic. The Trust began to develop its arrangements to secure improvements. These included:

 

 

The Trust recognises there is much to do. However, we can see clear improvements in all settings, and of course, we cannot estimate where we would be today without the team’s efforts and commitment to our communities.

 

The factors causing persistent and severe absence among different groups of pupils, in particular:

 

 

Group

Factors

Disadvantaged pupils

  • Low income families struggling with the costs of uniform, travel etc.
  • High percentage of vulnerable pupils with external agency involvement eg police, social care and the Youth Justice Service.
  • Reluctance to engage with professionals due to past historic experiences.
  • Heightened risk of exploitation due to vulnerabilities and needs

Minority ethnic backgrounds

  • Lack of cultural understanding and discrimination from previous excluding school.
  • Negative stereotyping and lack of interest specific offers within education.
  • Returning to country of origin to renew citizenship and travel documentation.

SEND

  • Changes to routine, lack of boundaries due to home schooling during pandemic.
  • Resistance to change/ boundaries on return to education.
  • Assisted travel for those young people who are unable to travel independently

SEND and those who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19

  • Anxiety related absences on return from extended periods of absence.
  • Parental anxiety regarding risks to health needs.
  • Increased media coverage which has exacerbated parental/pupil anxieties regarding school attendance.

Pupils permanently excluded from mainstream

  • Disengagement with education.
  • Feelings of rejection.
  • Disrupted learning.
  • Increased unwanted negative behaviour.

 

A number of wider factors that have contributed to high absence rates

 

Factor

Impact

Pupils and families who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19.

  • Parents are reluctant to send their children back into school for fear of contracting illnesses.
  • Heightened anxiety around illness and safety measures implemented by schools to ensure transmission is minimised and infection rates are reduced.

DfE proposed reforms to improve attendance

  • Reductions in the amount of referrals to the local authority for requests for service involving legal intervention.
  • Increase in support and tailored interventions
  • More support for families at an earlier stage reducing the need for legal prosecution.
  • Improved relationships built between school and stakeholders.

Family support

  • Increased engagement with external agencies.
  • Support with financial issues.
  • Sign posting families to the most suitable or relevant service.
  • Collaborative work alongside the trust attendance team to re-engage pupils with education

School breakfast clubs and free school meals

  • Can support parents who need to work and struggle to ensure punctuality.
  • Can be offered as a way to support parents who need help instilling morning routines.
  • Safe environment for young people.
  • Can support with personal care for those pupils identified as in need and at risk.
  • Food parcels and vouchers distributed to those families identified as eligible.

 

Despite the differing pupil cohorts and phases of education offered at each school, there are many similarities when considering pupil absence:

 

A sharp rise in SEND pupils indicates increased social vulnerability due to prolonged isolation and a breakdown in routines over time. These signs have been more significant for SEND pupils who are often clinically vulnerable. We have noted a comparable rise in parents of SEND pupils with the same symptoms.

 

An increasing number of SEND pupils are unwilling to follow their travel plans supported by the Local Authority. Anecdotally, this increase is likely linked to the point above.

 

A rise in the number of children at risk of child criminal exploitation (CCE) and child sexual exploitation (CSE). These risk factors are causing some pupils to move towards activities outside of school during school hours or a reluctance to leave their homes.

 

This factor affects a high percentage of pupils across the Trust are linked to low aspiration (both in the individual and wider family), increased mental and physical health risks, and for low-income families, challenges associated with school costs (travel, uniform and equipment). To mitigate this, the Trust funded new uniforms for all pupils across the Trust for this academic year.

 

Nottingham City is the joint highest excluding Authority in the country. As the city Commissioner, the Trust receives all permanently excluded pupils to one of its academies. The highest factor in deciding to exclude relates to persistent, unwanted behaviour. These are habitual patterns built over time with significant periods of disruption to education, rules and routines. They typically start with common attitudes associated with school refusers and low parental support. Coupled with the trauma experienced by the excluded child and their families, the journey to regular attendance is long.

 

Critical concerning groups are Romanian and Polish families. Factors include differing cultural attitudes and repatriation (15yr old Polish children) to secure full citizenship.

 

Support systems at all levels are stretched with increased needs and more advanced identification of needs – which are often more complex and lack suitable high-quality placements.

 

 

How schools and families can be better supported to improve attendance, and how this affects pupils and families who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19:

 

 

 

The impact of the Department's proposed reforms to improve attendance

 

The published Working Together to Improve School Attendance guidance identified the need to support families and pupils at risk of becoming persistent absentees. However, the main issue is building relationships and trust with families before they even consent to more comprehensive external support. Due to past experiences, some families find external involvement extremely negative. Social Care and other support agencies are stretched beyond capacity; therefore, even with parental consent, this support can take longer to implement than planned, and they need more time resources/time to build the relationships/trust required to have a significant impact.  

 

The allocation of an Attendance Support Team within each Local Authority is a welcomed addition; however, the capacity of staff allocated is a limiting factor when trying to pursue any form of legal action. This lessens the impact and message of how important education and attendance are to these identified parents and pupils.

 

 

The impact of school breakfast clubs and free school meals on improving attendance for disadvantaged pupils

 

A high percentage of pupils receive free school meals, with families also being supported through vouchers over the holidays. The Trust’s mainstream academy offers a breakfast club - and all specialist settings offer free breakfast on arrival, which is vital for our pupil's well-being.

 

 

The role of the Holiday Activities and Food programme and other after-school and holiday clubs, such as sports, in improving attendance and engagement with school

 

The HAF programme enables a school to offer support to its community that goes beyond the school day and plays an essential role in building relationships and supporting families to feed their children.

 

February 2023