Best Practice

School attendance is everybody’s business

For years attendance was considered a problem for schools and schools alone. But last academic year the DfE took steps to address this, reminding us that attendance is everybody’s business. How far have we come with these initiatives? Suzanne O'Connell takes a look
Image: Adobe Stock

“I won’t be the only headteacher who has been told by social services or the police that attendance is a school matter and not a safeguarding issue.”


For headteachers such as Emma Meadus, the elephant in the attendance debate has been around for far too long – while there are obvious links between the social and welfare needs of pupils and their absence, often persistent, from school, the safeguarding aspect of attendance is often not sufficiently recognised.

As such, attendance officers can find themselves working in limbo, stuck between social services and education.

The challenge facing us is stark. Attendance figures for the last academic year show that 17.2% of primary pupils were persistently absent, meaning they missed more than 10% of sessions (the rate for secondary schools is 28.3%). Meanwhile, overall absence stands at 7.5% (falling to 6% for primary schools), but absence rates rise to 11.4% for disadvantaged pupils, 13.3% for pupils with Education, Health and Care Plans, 11.1% for those with SEN (DfE, 2023).

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