Early intervention key to tackling attendance

The Education Minister Jeremy Miles has  published new guidance to help schools to work with families and relevant agencies to make sure learners come to school.

Jeremy Miles said: “Since the pandemic, too many young people are missing out on invaluable school time. This can impact on their wellbeing, their social skills, and their education. We can be in no doubt that our education system is still very much recovering from the impact of the pandemic. Schools have been working hard to support learners back into to the classroom, but this is a crisis which needs a national approach. It is my number one priority.”

Early identification and prevention are essential. The Welsh Government will change the statistical definition of persistent absence from missing 20% of sessions to 10% of sessions. Absence is often a symptom of an underlying issue – the sooner schools can identify it, the sooner they can support the learner and ensure they are in school.

Attendance issues are often a symptom of an underlying cause other than physical health, like wellbeing or mental health issues. For some, it can be because of interlinked factors. When this is the case, families need help from specialist agencies and wider services. This guidance highlights the need for schools to work with the appropriate agencies to make sure learners get the support they need.

Building good relationships with families and support agencies is key. One school that has taken action to improve school attendance is Pontypridd High School. Staff analysed data and found that learners eligible for free school meals had significantly worse attendance, as well as learners who did not engage well with schoolwork during lockdown. The school has provided extra support for pupils with significant attendance concerns including youth workers, counsellors and introduced a school EBSA room (Emotionally based school avoidance).

Attendance will improve if learners want to come to school and find learning and activities interesting and relevant. The new guidance is learner-focussed, emphasising the importance of seeking the views of children and parents on development and implementation of school policies. Getting parents involved is also part of the Welsh Government’s Community Focused Schools approach, which sees schools supporting the needs of learners, families and their wider community

The guidance also sets out the Welsh Government’s position on fines, which should only be used as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted. A warning should be issued in the first instance. Schools should also consider whether a fine will be effective in getting a child back to school.

Jeremy Miles said: “The new guidance will help schools in tackling this national issue. Making sure children are back in the classroom is our number one priority. By working together we will ensure that all children and young people are given the best possible start in life and are supported to reach their potential.”

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