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Government gets tough on school absence

18/04/2012 Joanna
Any teacher can point to a handful of pupils whose education is faltering because they systematically miss days off school and never catch up on the work.

All evidence shows that missing even a small amount of school can have a detrimental effect on a child's education, but recent figures revealed that last year nearly 400,000 pupils missed 15 per cent of their entire year of teaching.

This equates to a full month of lessons and, in light of this, the Department for Education (DfE) commissioned an independent review into absence in England's schools.

The results of the review and the subsequent recommendations were published this week (April 16th) and they all point to a new-found tough attitude to absenteeism and the parents who are ultimately held responsible for it.

Education minister Michael Gove has already cut the point at which absence is classed as 'persistent' from 20 per cent to 15 per cent, but more needs to be done and the report was commissioned with last summer's riots at the back of his mind.

Report recommendations

Carried out by former head teacher and  recently appointed 'behaviour tsar' Charlie Taylor, the report and its recommendations have been widely backed by the government.

Among the  its core proposals are an overhaul of the fine system which would help strengthen punitive measures taken against parents.

Statistics show that children who take a two-week holiday once a year while also missing an average amount of time off school will, over the course of their school career, be absent for 12 months of their education. To address this, the government plans to create stricter rules regarding holidays in term-time.

The DfE also plans to publish new and more complete absence data in a bid to spot absence from a younger age and address the problem before it is too late to deal with.

Publishing his recommendations, Mr Taylor said that while school attendance levels have been improving in recent years, the 54 million days absent last year was still far too many.

"Schools are aware of the consequences of poor attendance on their pupils' attainment," he said.

"Some schools go to great lengths to tackle attendance issues, and to see the absence rates decreasing is very promising. But more work needs to be done to reduce the number of pupils who are still persistently absent.

"The earlier schools address poor attendance patterns, the less likely it is that they will become a long-term issue. The best primary schools realise this and take a rigorous approach to poor attendance from the very start of school life."

Early warning system

While DfE data show that attendance is worst among pupils in years ten and 11, by this point it is often too late to address the issue.

Evidence reveals that levels of absence tend to grow as pupils go through school - which is hardly surprising as the more lessons are missed, the harder it is to catch up - so to tackle this, the new proposals aim to begin dealing with school absence earlier.

In addition to local and national school absence averages, the government will now publish data from reception and nursery which had previously been omitted and this will all be factored into a school's Ofsted report.

Primary schools and nurseries will be encouraged to work with parents to get their children into class and it is hoped that identifying children likely to be absent at an earlier age will act as an early warning system to prevent the problem from escalating.

Child Benefit

In terms of punitive measures, fines of £50 are currently issued to parents whose children are absent and if they are unpaid after 42 days they increase to £100. However, there is little way to enforce the sanction other than through slow, costly and often unsuccessful court action.

Indeed, of the 127,000 fines issued since the practice was introduced in 2004, about 50 per cent were either never paid or dropped.

Research shows that the fines are successful in getting parents to send their children to school, but Mr Taylor's recommendations to toughen up the system have led the government to take radical action.

Fines will increase to £60 and double to £120 if unpaid after 28 days. If they remain outstanding, the government is considering deducting the charge from a parent's Child Benefit payments.

This move has proved controversial in some areas, but the education minister feels that the current system needs to be simplified and this is the quickest and easiest way to make sure that the measures have an effect.

"Sanctions are most likely to work if their effect is immediate and if they are simple to administer," Mr Gove said.

The DfE will now look at ways to implement the recommendations through consultation with other government departments.


Posted by Tim ColmanADNFCR-2164-ID-801342466-ADNFCR
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