Will Your School Attendance Policies And Procedures Be Compliant From 19 August 2024?

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We look at the key aspects of the new school attendance guidance which comes into effect before the end of the Summer break.
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We look at the key aspects of the new school attendance guidance which comes into effect before the end of the Summer break.

As part of the ongoing efforts to enhance school attendance and support students, the government published new statutory guidance on 29 February 2024 aimed at reducing pupil absence and fostering a supportive educational environment. The mandatory guidance can be found here and will apply to maintained schools, academies, independent schools and local authorities from 19 August 2024.

By way of a reminder and to assist in ensuring attendance policies and procedures will be up to date, we summarise below the key aspects of the new statutory guidance which schools and trusts will need to comply with.

The Department for Education (DfE) has also produced a useful table summarising the attendance responsibilities for schools, academy trusts and governing bodies, local authorities, and parents under the guidance.

What is changing?

The guidance has been updated to:

  • clarify the link between improving attendance and wider school culture;
  • reflect changes to the law on keeping school attendance and admissions registers including a revised set of codes, granting leaves of absence, and access to and sharing of attendance information;
  • set out the new national framework for penalty notices; and
  • update terminology from "parenting contracts" to "attendance contracts" for clarity.

The expectations of schools have been updated to:

  • clarify arrangements for pupils who are prevented from attending due to mental or physical ill health, requests for medical evidence, additional support for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and part-time timetables;
  • explain new data-sharing requirements introduced by the Education (Information about Individual Pupils) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2024;
  • clarify the expectations of senior attendance champions; and
  • require that a pupil's youth offending team worker is informed of any unexplained absences.

Expectations of schools

The guidance will expect schools to:

  • build strong relationships and work jointly with families, understanding the barriers to attendance and working in partnership with families to remove them (the government has provided a toolkit for schools: communicating with families to support attendance);
  • develop and maintain a culture that promotes the benefits of high attendance;
  • have a clear attendance policy which is understood by staff, pupils, and parents;
  • accurately complete admission and attendance registers and have effective procedures in place to address absence;
  • regularly analyse data to identify students or cohorts needing attendance support and implement effective intervention strategies;
  • share information and collaborate with other schools in the area, local authorities and other partners to address pupils at risk of persistent or severe absence ;and
  • be particularly mindful of pupils who are absent due to mental or physical ill health or SEND and provide them with additional support.

Expectations of academy trust boards and governing bodies of maintained schools

All trusts and governing bodies will be expected to:

  • promote the importance of attendance across school ethos and policies;
  • ensure school leaders fulfil expectations and statutory duties in relation to attendance;
  • regularly review attendance data, discuss and challenge trends and help school leaders focus efforts on those pupils and cohorts who need the most improvement; and
  • ensure school staff receive adequate training on attendance.

Multi academy trust boards and governing bodies of federations are also expected to share effective practice on attendance management and improvement across schools.

In each area above, the approach to delivering support should be tailored and proportionate to the size of the group of schools and type of school(s) involved.

Support first

The guidance emphasises that schools, trusts and local authorities should always work together with local partners to understand the barriers to attendance and provide support. Only then should the following legal interventions be considered and used:

  • Attendance contracts;
  • Education supervision orders;
  • Attendance prosecution;
  • Parenting orders; and
  • Penalty notices.

National framework for penalty notices

To ensure consistent enforcement of attendance policies, fines for unauthorised absences will be brought under a national framework. Fines are going up from £60 to £80 if paid within 21 days and from £120 to £160 if paid after that but within 28 days.

Schools must consider whether a penalty notice is appropriate in each individual case where the national threshold of 10 sessions (or half days) of absence without authorisation in a rolling period of 10 school weeks is reached. This aims to standardise when penalty fines may be issued and ensure fairness and consistency across the country.

National daily attendance data

Schools will be required to contribute to a national attendance data set by sharing their daily attendance registers across the education sector using the new "Share your daily school attendance data" platform. This initiative aims to create a comprehensive overview of attendance patterns across the country to identify and support the children at risk of persistent absence or becoming missing in education. Local authorities may also require more frequent or comprehensive sharing of data where this is necessary to fulfil their statutory obligations and comply with the guidance.

Full details on how schools will need to share their daily attendance data are available here.

Persistent and Severe Absence

Schools and local authorities will be expected to focus on patterns of both persistent and severe absence as a priority. Where pupils miss more than 10% of school, schools and local authorities will be expected to work together to put additional targeted support in place to remove barriers to attendance and re-engage these pupils.

Particular attention should be given to those missing 50% or more of school, making this group a top priority. Targeted support may include an attendance or whole family plan, an education, health and care plan and/or alternative provision.

If all avenues of support have been exhausted but severe absence continues, this will likely constitute neglect. Schools and local authorities are therefore urged to be especially conscious of any safeguarding issues in these cases and, where these remain, conduct a full children's social care assessment.

Next Steps

In the busyness of the summer term, it would be all too easy for schools and trusts to lose sight of the new guidance, assume it won't be binding or expect that it will take effect from September 2024. However, schools and trusts need to be familiar with the new statutory guidance and ensure their attendance policies and procedures will be compliant from 19 August 2024 when the guidance takes effect.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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