The Department for Education (DfE) has issued new guidance entitled Working Together to Improve School Attendance which will be in place from September 2022.

It has been produced with the aim of helping schools, trusts, governing bodies and local authorities maintain high levels of school attendance.

The guidance makes clear the values the department places on school attendance. It also states that:

  • securing good attendance cannot be seen in isolation;

  • effective practices for improvement must be closely linked with curriculum, behaviour, bullying, special education needs support, pastoral and mental health and wellbeing, and effective use of resources such as the pupil premium;

  • attendance cannot be improved through a single member of staff or organisation and must be a concerted effort across all school staff, the trust or governing body, the local authority and other local partners.

It is important to note that this guidance is non-statutory. This means it is currently a set of expectations for schools, rather than legal duties. The guidance will remain in place until such time that it becomes statutory through the Schools Bill. This will be no sooner than September 2023.

Schools Bill

The Schools Bill is being progressed through Parliament to underpin the Government’s plans for the school system that were set out in the Schools White Paper.

The vision is to help every child fulfil their potential by ensuring they receive the ‘right support, in the right place, at the right time’. The Schools Bill will provide the legislative element required to move the White Paper into a deliverable set of actions.

The Schools Bill is intended to raise educational standards for all children, regardless of where they live, through a range of measures. These include school and local education funding, attendance, the regulation of independent educational institutions and the provision of more opportunities for professional development for teachers.

Expectations of schools

The guidance states that all schools have a continuing responsibility to proactively manage and improve attendance. The guidance sets out six key priorities that schools are expected to deliver on in order to manage and improve attendance effectively. These are summarised below.

For the full details, the guidance can be accessed through the DfE’s Working together to improve school attendance web page.

Schools are expected to:

  • develop and maintain a whole school culture that promotes the benefits of high attendance and is an integral part of the school’s ethos;

  • have a clear school attendance policy that all staff, pupils and parents understand. This policy should be easily accessible to leaders, staff, pupils and parents;

  • accurately complete admissions and attendance registers and have effective day-to-day processes in place to follow up when absence occurs;

  • regularly monitor and analyse attendance and absence data to identify pupils or cohorts that require support with their attendance. Effective strategies then need to be put in place;

  • build strong relationships with families, seek to understand the barriers to attendance and work with families to help remove these. Schools should treat all pupils and parents with dignity. This supports the recognition that poor attendance is habitual and prevention and early intervention is critical;

  • share information and work collaboratively with other schools in the area, local authorities, and other partners when absence is at risk of becoming persistent or severe.

As referred to earlier in this briefing, the current guidance is non-statutory. This means schools can be working towards these expectations, rather than already meeting them. As with any change in legislation, time to embed new ways of working is accounted for. This means schools do not need to urgently implement new policies or procedures.

Attendance policies

There may however be some merit in reviewing current attendance policies or introducing one if a policy in not already in place. The guidance sets out some key points that, as a minimum, should be included:

  • The attendance and punctuality expectations of pupils and parents, including start and close of the day, register closing times and the processes for requesting leaves of absence and informing the school of the reason for an unexpected absence.

  • The name and contact details of the senior leader responsible for the strategic approach to attendance in school.

  • Information and contact details of the school staff who pupils and parents should contact about attendance on a day-to-day basis, such as a form tutor, attendance officer, etc., and for more detailed support on attendance, such as a head of year, pastoral lead or family liaison officer, etc.

  • The school’s day-to-day processes for managing attendance, for example first day calling and processes to follow up on unexplained absence.

  • How the school is promoting and incentivising good attendance.

  • The school’s strategy for using data to target attendance improvement efforts to the pupils or pupil cohorts who need it most.

  • The school’s strategy for reducing persistent and severe absence, including how access to wider support services will be provided to remove the barriers to attendance and when support will be formalised in conjunction with the local authority.

  • The point at which fixed penalty notices for absence and other sanctions will be sought if support is not appropriate (e.g. for an unauthorised holiday in term time), not successful or not engaged with.

Expectations on local authorities

As part of the Government’s drive to ensure attendance is an issue shared across all relevant organisations, the guidance sets out the expectations on local authorities. In summary, these are:

  • Carefully track local attendance data to devise a strategic approach to attendance that prioritises the pupils, pupil cohorts and schools that need the most focus on which to provide support and focus its efforts on to unblock area-wide barriers to attendance.

  • Have a School Attendance Support Team that provides a number of core functions free of charge to all schools. As part of this, schools should be provided with a named point of contact in the School Attendance Support Team who can support with queries and advice.

  • Monitor and improve the attendance of children with a social worker through their Virtual School.

Future developments

Two related issues - school registers and national thresholds for legal intervention - are currently being consulted on by the DfE. The NASUWT has engaged with this process and will update members accordingly when the consultation has concluded and subsequent guidance is issued for schools.

The NASUWT will continue to monitor developments of the Schools Bill and will provide guidance on progress and how this may impact on schools and our members.

More information

If you have a concern about the way in which attendance is being managed in your school, you should seek advice and support from the NASUWT immediately.

Further advice and guidance is also available on the related topic of behaviour management on our main Behaviour Management for Teachers in the Classroom page.