Written evidence submitted by the Cavendish High Academy

The Cavendish High Academy is for young people with special educational needs, aged 11 - 19 years. We are an ever progressing school with Academy status and 101 students currently on roll. The school is designated for students with Severe Learning Difficulties, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties and Autistic Spectrum Condition with SLD. All students have an Education, Health and Care Plan.  Other special educational needs are considered through an Education, Health and Care Plan on an individual basis, due to this we currently have a cohort of Social, Emotional and Mental Health, SEMH students.


Within this piece of evidence I wish to discuss the factors of persistent and severe absence within SEND students.


Firstly within the new Department proposed reforms a benchmark is set for 90% attendance as below this is persistent absence and below 50% attendance as severe absence. As a small school we currently have 32% students attendance that would be classed as persistent, 3%  students attendance classed as severe. We have another 3%  of students which are at risk of severe.  Therefore as the attendance lead I am utilising the proposed reform to build a whole school culture and raise expectations for attendance. The difficulty after reading the proposed reform is that only one section considers factors for SEND. 


I felt at this point it was imperative to share the factors that are causing severe and persistent attendance, which according to the guidelines within the reform would be 38% of The Cavendish High Academy.


Behind every SEND student's persistent and severe absence from full time education is an individual story. Within The Cavendish High Academy and within my position I can say that data is just one piece of a large jigsaw of a complex young person.


Within this evidence I will briefly use the lowest attenders at The Cavendish High Academy for Autumn 2022 as a demonstration of factors for persistent / severe attendance with SEND. I have removed two students from the data as they are both Post 16 and therefore are attending a part time personalised timetable with authorised absence.


  1. Student A’s attendance was 54%. A complex young person with ASD and who is non verbal. The young person’s attendance dipped significantly due to a number of factors which included the young person struggling with returning to school after the summer break. Student A struggled with the change back into a school routine, this included not sleeping at night and refusing to get up in the morning. The secondary factor was parental capacity at this time was stretched and caused a parent with multiple children to struggle to get the child into a routine and back to school. To support this we already put into place a number of strategies suggested in the reform. This included contacting designated safeguarding leads at sibling mainstream school,  which was highly beneficial; they were not aware of Student A’s complex needs and teamed with ourselves to support the parent. A referral to early help was placed, a referral to health professionals including sleep clinic, continual communication and encouragement with the parent via Whatsapp messages, phone calls and emails. This also included home visits, support with the morning routine, after and before local authority transport. The main factor was supporting the parent to complete a GP visit for mental health concerns, which helped ensure their mindframe was restored to move forward positively. The factors caused low attendance but the impact of the robust action plan has meant the students attendance so far in the Spring term is 91% which is a massive improvement, moving the student from severe.


  1. Student B’s attendance is 57%, a complex student with Cerebral Palsy with Diplegia and  a wheelchair user. Student B’s attendance factors include attending physiotherapy and hydrotherapy external to the school weekly. Other factors have been illness and have included three days of a specialised vehicle for transport being off the road to get to school.


  1. Student C’s attendance at 57.5% is due to recorded illness but also school refusal. This is a consistent pattern for Student C, the previous academic year attendance was recorded at 58.2%. Student C has a diagnosis of Autism. Parents communicate well with school but struggle to get the student to attend, strategies have included social stories, working towards, identification of preferred staff, chosen activity, home learning and visits. Student C displays difficult and challenging behaviour at home which can make it difficult for parents to continually deal with the conflict surrounding attending school.


  1. Student D’s attendance is 57.5% with a diagnosis of SEMH, LD and sensory issues. One factor for Student D is previous educational experience. Student D was previously placed in a mainstream setting and struggled to attend due to bullying, became homeschooled by parents and then began at the Academy this year. Student D struggles to manage consistent full time attendance and will attend for a week and then not attend for a week. Parents inform school that this is due to illness, justifying the absence with a cold or stomach ache explanation. This may be due to their  previous experience in a setting with the Local Authority attendance team, we are beginning to unpick this and build a positive relationship with the student and parents, building trust and an open conversation about the expectation of attendance. I am also beginning to explore EBSA. EBSA research and toolkits are currently focused on mainstream students and we will have to continually read and adapt research and materials to be applicable to our cohorts.


  1. Student E’s attendance as 68% is due to changes in medical condition, illness, appointments and medication. Impacting how the young person is functioning in their daily life.



Alternative wider factors that impact our students attendance:



Students have complex behavioural issues and over 67% of students at The Cavendish High Academy have a behaviour support plan and this can impact their attendance. Behavioural episodes can be exhausting for a young person, we understand if students have had difficulties at home or at school which can lead to missing a day's attendance due to how they are feeling, often becoming physically exhausted or mentally drained.



Poor sleep patterns, even the changing of the season will impact students. A high number of our students are on Melatonin, a prescription medication to support sleep which will have side effects. Students can struggle with sleep routines and this impacts their attendance. 



School holidays are a change in routine that can often be distressing to students and can take time to re-adapt to the new term. Students can refuse to follow a back to school routine and impact attendance.



Due to the complex medical needs of the students and a high number of previously being listed at Critically Vulnerable, parents are continually testing for Covid-19 and this year we have had two confirmed cases impacting attendance.


Best practice

After reading the guidance we have many elements in place

-          School relationships are essential, with students and families

-          Communication is important

-          Open and honest conversations

-          Process of reporting absenteeism, has been effectively put into place

-          We support parents, a listening ear

-          Completing referrals to medical professional for example to sleep clinic for students who are missing school due to poor sleep quality and quantity

-          Completing home visits with different approaches from collecting students to being their before school transport to support parents back into the routine

-          Social stories

-          Providing PECS strips for parents to work through a morning routine

-          Feeding information into EHCPs especially annual reviews

-          Working collaboratively with other professionals


To conclude data against the recently released experimental pupil absence data The Cavendish High Academy are within similar percentages. As a school we work towards removing barriers, work collaboratively with families and have the student at the centre of our process. It would be beneficial for reforms to expand the section on SEND and may it specific for the sector.

February 2023