Regular attendance at school is vital for children’s education, wellbeing, and long-term development. School attendance is mandatory, and parents have a duty, under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 to ensure that their child of compulsory age (5-16) receives an efficient full-time education either by attendance at school or otherwise.
The department appreciates that barriers to attendance are wide and complex, particularly for pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Addressing these requires strong relationships and close working between families, schools, local authorities, and other relevant local services. This is the intention of the attendance clauses in the Schools Bill.
The Bill will put the department’s new attendance guidance ‘Working together to improve school attendance’ onto a statutory footing. This will ensure greater consistency in the attendance support offered to pupils and families, regardless of where in the country they live, and emphasises the importance of providing attendance support in an earlier and more targeted way to respond to pupils’ individual needs.
The new guidance makes it clear that schools should develop and maintain a whole school culture that promotes the benefits of attendance, whilst recognising the interplay between attendance and wider school improvement efforts, such as strategies on mental health, wellbeing, and SEND. Schools will be expected to have sensitive conversations with pupils about their needs and work with families to develop specific support approaches for pupils with SEND. This includes establishing strategies for removing in-school barriers to attendance, ensuring attendance data of this group of pupils is regularly monitored to spot patterns and provide support earlier, including ensuring joined-up pastoral care is in place and referring pupils to support from other services and partners where necessary.
These expectations, alongside the expectations placed on academy trust boards, governing bodies, and local authorities to work in conjunction with school staff to provide joined-up support for all pupils and families, will ensure that pupils with SEND are supported to attend school regularly.
Alongside the new expectations in the Schools Bill, the department is currently consulting on proposed changes we want to make to the SEND and alternative provision (AP) system in England.
The Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Green Paper, which is open for public consultation until 22 July 2022, sets out the department’s proposals for a system that offers children and young people the opportunity to thrive, with access to the right support, in the right place, and at the right time.