Attendance guidance kicks in as DfE unveils new data toolkit

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Ministers have ramped up their focus on school attendance this term in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New attendance guidance has come into force this month and the Department for Education (DfE) is urging schools to work with councils and deploy home visits and targeted family support where needed.

The DfE has also unveiled a new one-to-one “attendance mentoring pilot, while a new "attendance data visualisation tool" is to be launched later this month.

The guidance (DfE, 2022) is non-statutory this year although is expected to become statutory from September 2023.

The thrust is very much on identifying specific barriers for individual pupils or groups of pupils, including analysing data. Schools should “build strong relationships with families, listen to and understand barriers to attendance and work with families to remove them”.

Schools are expected to “monitor and analyse weekly attendance patterns and trends and deliver intervention and support in a targeted way to pupils and families”. This should go beyond headline attendance percentages and look at individual pupils, cohorts and groups (including punctuality).

It adds that schools should: “Devise specific strategies to address areas of poor attendance identified through data. This may, for example, include pupils in a year group with higher than average absence or for pupils eligible for free school meals if their attendance falls behind that of their more advantaged peers.”

It also includes a list of what school attendance policies must include, such as the point at which Fixed Penalty Notices for absence and other sanctions will be sought. For more details on this list, see our report here.

Elsewhere, the DfE says that its three-year attendance mentoring pilot will begin this term and will be focused on tackling the factors behind non-attendance, including bullying or mental health issues.

The DfE is to launch the pilot in Middlesborough this year, before expanding to other areas of the country next year.The pilot will provide support to more than 1,600 persistently and severely absent pupils over the three-year period, the DfE has pledged.

Persistently and severely absent pupils miss 10% or 50% of sessions (half-days) respectively.

Meanwhile, a new “attendance data visualisation tool” will be launched for use by local authorities and schools and as part of a new national attendance data dashboard. This is expected later in September and is aimed at giving schools and others useful insights of daily, weekly and termly trends.

It comes after two high-profile research reports earlier this year offered advice for schools seeking to tackle attendance issues.

An attendance audit conducted by children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza (2022) listed six ambitions with a range of related recommendations for schools and wider education to help boost attendance. These included listening to students effectively and ensuring that exclusions triggered effective interventions. Read more about this report here.

And a research review by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF, 2022) looked at the findings of 72 studies into interventions aimed at improving pupils’ attendance. It found that sending “nudge” letters to the parents of persistently absent pupils and identifying and addressing specific, individual barriers to attendance are two approaches shown to have positive impact on attendance.

However, it also says more research is needed and as such the EEF is currently working with the Youth Endowment Fund to fund and trial different approaches to improve attendance and reduce exclusions. Read more about this report here.

The overall absence rate for autumn 2020 was 4.7% of sessions across all types of state school – which equates to three days per pupil. This does not include absences due to Covid and is similar to 2019, when the figure was 4.9%.

Within this, 3.3% of missed sessions were authorised by the school and 1.4% were unauthorised. Broken down by phase, primary schools recorded 3.7% absence (of which 1% were unauthorised), while secondaries recorded 5.7% absence (1.8% unauthorised).

The number of pupils persistently absent increased to 501,642 (16.3%) in secondary schools in autumn 2020, compared with 454,167 in 2019 (15%), not including non-attendance in Covid circumstances. In primary schools, persistent absence has fallen to 9.9% from 11.2% over the same period.

However, once you factor Covid into the equation the figures are stark. In autumn 2021, one in four children were persistently absent from school compared to one in nine in 2018/19 (pre-pandemic).

  • Children’s Commissioner: Voices of England’s missing children: The findings of the Children’s Commissioner’s Attendance Audit, June 2022:
  • DfE: Working together to improve school attendance, May 2022a:
  • EEF: Attendance interventions: Rapid evidence assessment, March 2022:

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