PA0207

Written evidence submitted by Education and Inclusion, Children and Young People's Services, Wakefield Council

Wakefield Council is one of four local authorities engaged in the Association of Education Committees Trust (AEC) pilot Educating for the future: developing new locality models for English schools – Pilot 1 Support for Vulnerable young People.

This document is based on initial findings from early discussions with school leaders and other stakeholders with regards to identifying flags of vulnerability that we might monitor across the system. It serves as evidence around the factors causing persistent and severe absence, as discussed in stakeholder meetings, only.

In beginning to consider ‘vulnerability’ through the lens of education, school leaders and other stakeholders have identified persistent and severe absence as a ‘messy problem’. It is recognised that those who are persistently or severely absent can be hidden in plain sight, the individuals lost within seemingly good attendance figures for a whole cohort. It must therefore be addressed and monitored at an individual level. In considering the number and complexity of potential causes of non-attendance there was a suggestion that attendance should be used as a flag of vulnerability.

Numerous factors behind non-attendance have been considered by a stakeholder group, and the following alerts were viewed as potential flags of vulnerability that could be tracked. Some of these have further comments later in this document.

 

Parental mental health was deemed to be a major contributory factor to a child not attending school, or the child’s mental health. There is a perceived need that investment in local mental health support arrangements is necessary to target support at a whole family level where mental health is a root cause of non-attendance at school.

The lockdowns associated with the Covid 19 pandemic had a profound impact on lots of groups of children and young people. For many it gave children and young people ‘permission’ to stay at home. Teaching was imaginatively delivered through different methods, and this was preferred by some children/young people.

Those children with an EHCP who were encouraged to attend found themselves in classrooms with fewer other pupils, thriving in lower sensory-stimulating environments. As class sizes returned to normal levels, some of these children have reacted badly, leading to schools stating that they are unable to meet need when they were able to prior to the pandemic.

Some parents desperately want their children/young people to attend but lack the skills and strategies to get them out of the house and into school. There is a potential role for early help intervention in supporting these families.

It was felt that schools have a large amount of intelligence about the children and young people on roll. There is a need to be able to share this intelligence across schools and settings where siblings attend different settings e.g., primary and secondary school, or special school. By joining up the family narrative there would be better identification need which could be prioritised for the deployment of resources.

CPOMS is widely used as a method of capturing intelligence within Wakefield’s schools. The power of the tool is analysis of individuals, where multiple small incidents provide a comprehensive picture of the different factors affecting a child/young person’s life.

Education professionals feel that intelligence is often requested from them by professionals from a variety of different agencies, however nothing is shared back the other way. It is felt that there is a need for better intelligence sharing protocols among partners to ensure effective and timely communication.

If a child/young person is not in school, then they are unseen. Schools have systems in place to either call families where a child has not turned up at school, or to go to the home and pay a doorstep visit. This requires a significant resource from the schools; however, it is felt to be an important aspect of frontline safeguarding. The perception among school leaders is that non-attendance is seen as a minor issue by other agencies; yet while a child/young person is in school they are safe, warm, fed, are visible to staff and have access to trusted staff members. There is a need to redress this balance.

Moving schools within the academic year was identified as a potential risk factor that warranted additional intelligence-gathering as to why the move was being made. It was also raised that it can take a significant amount of time for a case to go to Fair Access Panel, which increased vulnerability while trying to secure a school place.

School leaders recognise that there is a need for collective responsibility around attendance. During the first lockdown, in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, schools and the local authority were acutely aware of the need to protect vulnerable children. Tracking systems were put in place which ensured that there was regular contact with those children and families that were deemed to be vulnerable. The ways schools engaged with families, through doorstep visits, telephone and video calls, and virtual lessons, were many and varied. They did however require significant time resource. If we recognise attendance as a key indicator if vulnerability, then there is a place for collective responsibility across all partners. Attendance must become everybody’s responsibility in the same way as safeguarding is.

This document responds to the represents the earliest findings as part of an ongoing pilot. In Wakefield we have adopted a locality-based approach within Children and Young People’s Services called Wakefield Families Together. The next stage of the pilot is to test the locality responses to attendance and other flags of vulnerability to develop a fuller understanding of the needs of each of the localities, the resources required to meet need and the impact of services on this.

February 2023