Download the Full report (980k) Improving School Attendance in England
Executive (225k) Summary
More information at the National Audit Press Office
There is no doubting that not attending school affects peoples' life chances; recent research has confirmed that pupils with significantly higher than average levels of absence are far more likely to under achieve at GCSE and Key Stage S3 than their peers.
However, although we have been successful in improving overall school attendance, the national rate of unauthorised absence has hardly changed in the 10 years since the current national reporting system was introduced back in 1993/94. Unauthorised absence still accounts for approximately 1 in every 10 days missed from schools in England & Wales, and so according to the latest report from the National Audit Office this demonstrates that the Government's strategies for improving behaviour & attendance have been a waste of public money because they have clearly failed to make any in-roads into tackling truancy - or have they?
Detailed analysis shows that the majority of unauthorised absences are parentally condoned and more likely to result from such things as acute lateness and unapproved holidays in term-time, rather than 'classic' truancy. As we all know, the depressing fact is that a small but significant number of parents consistently fail to carry out their legal responsibilities to ensure their children attend school regularly, e.g. roughly half of all the children stopped on truancy sweep operations are accompanied by parents or an adult carer.
The Government's school attendance strategy has been designed to deliver targets linked to educational achievement and socio-economic circumstances. However, many 'truants' have serious emotional problems and/or parents who are unable (as opposed to unwilling) to cope for a variety of reasons, and the Government's failing has been to place too much media emphasis on 'tougher' sanctions and fast-tracking legal action, rather than promoting further research into the causes of truancy and providing appropriate support packages for parents/carers. I therefore welcome Ruth Kelly's recent statement that we need to make schools places that children & young people want to go to.
Although the National Audit Office report is rightfully critical of aspects of the Government's strategy for tackling truancy, it falls short of recommending a complementary focus on 'softer' messages that can encourage a culture of regular school attendance as the norm for all young people, using language which struggling parents can relate to and hopefully making them less likely to condone their children's absence - an approach which NASWE first brought to the attention of the (then) DfEE back in 1998, when we submitted our report on 'Truancy & Social Exclusion' to the Government's Social Exclusion Unit. Likewise, the National Audit Office report also misses out by failing to challenge the media's false perceptions of absenteeism and its fixation with 'hard' news stories about prosecutions.
There is a wealth of experience within local authority education welfare services that has not always been readily acknowledged by Ministers and/or used by the DfES for identifying the most effective practice, and the Government's approach of 'one size fits all' with an over emphasis on performance management data and 'expert advisers' has alienated local professionals and caused conflicts between schools and some LEAs.
Similarly, although NASWE welcomes the introduction of the new National Occupational Standards for Education Welfare Officers and the development of the Level 3 & 4 National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) in Learning, Development and Support Services for Children and Those who Care for Them (LDSS), it would be remiss of me not to point out that the £885 million pounds that has been spent by the DfES since 1997 trying to tackle the 'truancy issue' could have employed an extra 3,560 front-line Education Welfare professionals. If it had been, I'm pretty sure that the additional challenge, monitoring & intense support these staff could have provided to schools, individual pupils and parents would have led to significant reductions in unauthorised absence levels.
and finally; a truancy sweep team of Education Welfare Officers from Surrey County Council recently targeted Kempton Park racecourse during a mid-week meeting and found 79 children 'truanting' - and 'no' they didn't advertently pickup any jockeys; most of the children were with their parents and they came from places as far away as Cornwall, Manchester, London and Suffolk. So, if any of you out there are going to be involved in running truancy sweep operations in the vicinity of Lords cricket ground during the forthcoming Ashes Test Match against Australia, then I'd like to volunteer my services free of charge!!
PS This is my final journal report as President - it's been an honour and a privilege to represent you over the last 12 months and I'm looking forward to chatting with as many of you as possible over the course of our annual conference.
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