In recent years the city has seen improvements in school attendance rates, achieved through hard work by schools, parents, communities and partner agencies. Attendance is monitored, supported and challenged across the work force in different ways and through various business as usual processes and initiatives. Many of them are monitored on an action tracker by the work of the Behaviour and Attendance Group (BAG) which now sits under the auspices of the Portsmouth Education Partnership (PEP). This provides oversight and challenge to the need for school attendance to be everybody’s business.
However, the fact is that Portsmouth’s pupils do not attend school as regularly as their peers nationally and there is therefore still considerably more work to do. Comparable statistics are not easy to produce due to the effect COVID-19 has had on attendance at school but we’re aware that levels of attendance need to be closely monitored following full re-opening, particularly in the more vulnerable groups.
Ensuring good attendance at school is a key priority, against which the work of all agencies will be assessed, and all agencies undertake to support parents to ensure that children’s learning is given top priority, so that their life chances can be maximised.
Portsmouth offers a range of services to schools to promote regular school attendance – for more details see the Traded Services website.
Responsibility for Attendance
Ultimately parents and carers are responsible for making sure children attend school regularly, but schools clearly have a responsibility to motivate and support pupils so that they do not nor want to miss out on education.
Those responsibilities extend to other partner agencies in the city who are working to support families and who take very seriously the need to ensure that children and young people engage fully in education and training. In this regard it is important that schools know how to access support from the three Multi Agency Teams (contact via the MASH) in the city, particularly with respect to pupils who have chronic non-attendance where a plan should be in place to help them return to school.
Close working with health partners is also important. Just over half of all absences are due to health related issues, by far the largest single reason for absence. School nursing are working alongside schools with a focus on reducing school absence due to health related issues.
The Impact of Absence
By not attending school regularly, children and young people are leaving themselves vulnerable to risks which can reduce their life chances. For example, those who do not attend school regularly are more likely to leave school without any qualifications and will leave themselves at risk of other poor outcomes including poverty, long term unemployment, criminal involvement, alcohol and substance misuse, social isolation and mental health problems. Furthermore, poor attendance affects the ability of schools to set high standards and an appropriate pace of work for other pupils.
The cumulative impact of absence on attainment can be stark. For example, by being away from school for a two week holiday every year and having an average number of days off for sickness and appointments, by the time a child leaves school at 16, they will have missed a year of school. If a child is 15 minutes late each day, that will mean they lose just over 10 teaching days in a year.
For those children and young people who are the most vulnerable, regular attendance at school can be a challenge, yet school may be the only safe and consistent part of their lives. Away from the safety and security of school, young people are more at risk of abuse and exploitation, taking part in criminal activity and missing out on support for special educational needs and mental health problems.
Health Related Absence Project
This Solent NHS Trust project is based on a successful pilot that took place in schools in the north of Portsmouth a number of years ago and demonstrated a positive impact to reduce the levels of health related absence. The offer to schools consists of the following which is additional to the School Nursing Service offer that all schools receive. The additional offer for schools in the Health Related Absence Project (HRAP) is:
- Training session for key school staff on how to use the guidance and to provide support and challenge to parents
- Parent and school staff access to the School Nursing attendance telephone service, 8.30 – 9.30am, Monday – Friday, term time
- Targeted health interviews with a school nurse, parent/young person and school staff if needed with one review meeting with school nurse, parent/young person and school attendance staff member within an agreed timescale
- Referral into School Nursing Service or specialist health practitioner where appropriate
- Support for school in completing EHA where no health concerns are identified.
10 schools across the city have signed up to the project. School nurses have been in post since May 2018 and have spent time in the schools finalising the processes to make this an effective project.