Written evidence submitted by Nisai Virtual Academy


The factors causing persistent and severe absence among different groups of pupils, in particular disadvantaged pupils, pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds, pupils with SEND and those who are clinically vulnerable to covid-19, and pupils in alternative provision.


Just 7% of children that are permanently excluded go on to achieve good passes in English and maths GCSEs; they are more likely to go on to be out of education, employment and training in those critical years after the compulsory schooling age and 23% of young offenders with sentences of less than 12 months have been excluded previously[1].


It is 9 times more likely that a child with SEN will be excluded from school, a fact that makes them particularly at risk of exploitation by ruthless gangs that specialise in targeting the most vulnerable in society.  The Department of Education therefore need to think carefully about how they should engage with local councils to ensure they take their safeguarding responsibilities for children seriously, especially those with SEND.


Two‐thirds of parents that home-school their children identified ‘push’ factors away from the school as their main reasons for educating their children at home. These include bad experiences with formal provision and the perceived failure of schools to meet their child’s needs adequately.  This is known as off-rolling.  Oftsed have specified that “before an inspection, Ofsted’s analysts give the lead inspector information about whether or not a school has exceptional levels of pupils leaving the school in years 10 and 11”[2]. However, considering there are many ways in which a school can claim off rolling has not happened including the use of managed moves, this is not a black-and-white issue, and that inspectors need to evaluate whether or not “managed moves” are being used in the proper manner.  After all, it needs to be remembered that whilst they are not being educated adequately, it is the child that is not having the education they need during this time.


OFSTED’s focus on grades above everything else means that the education of children with SEN is often seen as a pressure for schools as opposed to something that should be done as part of a levelling up agenda.  This means that the education of our more vulnerable students is often side-lined in comparison to the schools “main job” of achieving certain grades.  This is massively unfair and just consigns these children, many of whom have issues around social, Emotional and Mental Health [3]to a life half lived as they are not given an education that will take them forward, instead being seen as a distractionInstead, the Department of Education needs to work with sector specialists across education to look at the way in which OFSTED judges a school to ensure that how a school teaches its more challenging students, and the results that are attained is taken into consideration in their reporting processes.  This in turn would mean a higher standard of education for all as it would encourage schools to level up properly, as opposed to just pay the idea lip service.  It would also encourage schools to ensure that education provision is more tailored, as opposed to one size fits all. This will hopefully mean that schools will also be better prepared for those with SEN and ensure that there is provision in place.  For example, this could include online and blended learning[4].  Of course, at the moment those that are outside mainstream education, especially those are home-schooled, do not have any grants from the Government to use on education[5], and we understand that any provision like this would cost money.  In cash terms, every child should have £6,970 a year for the education[6]. It is therefore important that the money for a child follows that child even if they off the roll and therefore there should be a way of ensuring that in this situation, parents can have access to some kind of education voucher system so that money follows the student. After all, it costs £271,000 for a child to be at a Secure Children’s Home, £201,000 at a Secure Training Centre or £119,000 at a Young Offender Institution this is a total false economy[7], so it would be much better to spend less money now than much more money when the situation reaches crisis point.


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.


We understand that it is hard for young people who have been exposed to Covid 19 to just fit back in with school life.  For a long time the Government was asking everyone to stay at home with messages that this was the safest place to be.  However, it is important for young people to understand that absence can affect attainment, wellbeing and future outcomes.  In addition, absence from school is a potential safeguarding risk if the child has not informed their family that they are not at school when parents think they are.


With this in mind, we need to ensure that teachers are trained in handling sensitive situations around illness. This could include a designated attendance champion in the senior leadership team with clearly assigned responsibilities which are identified within the attendance policy, escalation of procedures and school improvement plan. To ensure this works, schools need to ensure that they build respectful relationships with pupils and families as well as liaise with other agencies working with pupils and their families to support attendance, for example, where a young person has a social worker or is otherwise vulnerable.


The impact of the Department’s proposed reforms to improve attendance.


The proposed reforms focus on the way attendance is monitored and reported on.  This would have minimal impact on improving attendance within a school as the way it is monitored changes little. Instead, we feel the reforms should focus on identifying the reasons for non-attendance and give schools options on how to re-engage those individuals. 


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


Since 2014 to 2020 the numbers of children eligible for FSM has increased whilst uptake is only 70% of pre-lockdown figure.[8] If FSM was to be a considering factor and impact attendance then the increase would already be happening.  We therefore believe that attendance is less to do with food, and more fears of illness and environment

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.


This is not addressing the route cause because the main problem around attendance at the moment is the fear of illness, which if anything will be exacerbated the proposal of holiday activities and after school clubs as young people and their families would feel they would be more likely to be exposed.


February 2023