Agenda item

School Attendance Update

To receive a report from the Director of Children and Families setting out information on school attendance in Leeds. This follows Board requests for more information on reduced attendance rates compared to pre-pandemic levels.


The Board received the report from the Director of Children and Families providing an overview of school attendance in Leeds. This included relevant Leeds data, an overview of actions the LA has taken to support schools in their work to improve attendance and a summary of planned actions the LA will take to support schools in their work to improve attendance and reduce absence.


The following were in attendance for this item:


·  Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Education

·  Julie Longworth, Director of Children and Families

·  Rebecca McCormack, Head of Service Vulnerable Learners

·  Jancis Andrew, Headteacher Virtual School Looked After Children



In opening remarks both the Chair and Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Learning stressed the importance of school attendance and the importance it plays in effective learning and attainment and ensuring that children and young people reach their potential.


The Executive Member provided a summary of the attendance position highlighting the national trends that have seen an increase in persistent absence since the pandemic from approximately just over 10% to now being slightly over 20%, that position is also reflected in Leeds.


Leeds ranks 74th out of 152 local authorities overall and attendance is a key element of the 3As strategy at priority 2. Cllr Pryor also noted that the data does not identify underlying causes of the increases in absence and further highlighted the need for additional resources within schools to tackle the problem and welcomed the comments of Board members on the issues faced in relation to school attendance in the city as part of this report.


Responding to questions from members the following discussion points were raised:


·  Board members highlighted the issues with children and young people who are unable to attend mainstream secondary school settings for a variety of reasons but a key reason being the size of schools and also problems in diagnosing children and young people due to backlogs both nationally and locally in identifying conditions that children and young people might have. Members believed that there was a need for a different kind of provision between mainstream and SILC settings to provide appropriate places of learning for this cohort of children and young people. Members suggested a piece of work at a national and local level to understand the barriers and reasons for this cohort not attending school. It was believed that mental health is a key issue much of which has been evident post pandemic.

·  Members further noted that EHCPs are not always the answer to the issues that have been identified with many pupils who are persistently absent often needing short term support that the model offered by EHCPs does not fit and this links into some of the demand issues being felt by the SENSAP team. The Board noted that waiting lists for diagnosis of conditions for children and young people is a priority for the Integrated Care Board in terms of speeding assessments up through services such as CAMHS, it was further noted that these issues are prevalent nationwide.

·  The Board discussed how the family help model established in the MacAilister Review could be applied to locality support for schools. A key area of interest being how the city can wrap family help approaches around schools to ensure that they can respond to the needs of children and young people effectively through development of a whole system approach and working collaboratively and collectively across organisations to develop solutions for the city.

·  Building on earlier comments around resources in schools the board recognised that there is a need for more support staff to be available in schools to support children and young people in schools, an important factor being recruitment and retention and some of the terms and conditions that are found in support staff contracts, such as term time only contracts. The Board also recognised that national approaches are an important contextual factor when discussing the situation in Leeds, the issues being identified around persistent absence and wider school attendance are not unique to Leeds and are being felt nationally.

·  The Board were interested in best practice in the city and the possibility of pairing schools up who are performing well in terms of attendance management with other schools who are doing less well. The Board felt that sharing of the methods being used in schools that are working effectively on attendance could deliver improvements more widely. It was noted that this is a priority area for the service in the current academic year. To support the Board’s understanding of this a request was made to share more data on school performance on attendance, it was agreed that this would be shared following the meeting.

·  Responding to a question around working with statistical neighbours and other local authorities the board were informed that the Council is active in working within the region and trying to adopt best practice where that is evident. In addition, the Board heard that there is additional support in place for this through DfE provided Attendance Advisors that are aimed at supporting local authorities and exploring learning from other authority areas that are performing well.

·  The Board were also interested in transition between primary and secondary provision. During the pandemic some of the strategies used to assist and smooth transition had to be ceased due to necessity but these arrangements are now operating again as they were pre-pandemic. In addition to that there is a renewed focus on the individual student and understanding the barriers to attendance and seeking to remedy them.

·  Following questions from Board members they were assured that children and families services were fully committed to developing early intervention and prevention measures. A recent example of this is the expansion of the Early Help Hubs from three to seven and plans to have SEND co-ordinators as part of their teams to accompany existing staff such as Domestic Violence and Mental Health Co-ordinators.

·  Members discussed how students who are regularly or persistently absent are responded to when they return to school and were cautious of approaches that saw large amounts of ‘catch up’ work given to them as often that can lead to the student being overwhelmed and could lead to further absence. Whilst emphasising the need for a strong focus on attainment the Board thought that taking a different view on attainment and more carefully managing re-introduction to school could be beneficial for students who have been persistently absent.

·  Developing on this theme the board noted the impact that core groups of persistently absent students have on a school’s overall attendance figures and ultimately attainment figures. Responding to questions about how much freedom schools have to manage returns from persistent absence, the board were informed that resource is a key limiting factor in what options schools have to develop potential solutions such as phased returns or more nuanced approaches to individual students to meet their needs and drive better attendance in the future and ultimately higher attainment.

·  When discussing other limiting factors on this theme the role of Ofsted was noted and the Board were informed of positive recent discussion between the Directorate and Ofsted that touched on the unintended consequences of Ofsted judgements.

·  Board members highlighted an issue around awareness of neurodiversity amongst children and young people. It was recognised that workforce development and enhancing skills within the workforce would be important in this potentially by developing partnership working between agencies to encourage and facilitate workforce development.

·  The Board requested more information on attendance broken down by ethnically diverse communities, which it was agreed will be looked into and provided.

·  On penalty notices for absence the Board were keen to know more about the approaches referred to in the submitted report. It was noted that the majority of penalties issued were linked to family holidays. The Board were informed that the local approach is still being developed and it was recognised that a standardised approach both across Leeds and in line with the national approach is one of the issues. A potential problem in relation to standardised approaches is that it is the school’s responsibility to request that a penalty notice is issued by the local authority which can lead to different approaches being taken. In addition, understanding the reasons behind absence is an important element before issuing penalty notices.

·  The Chair asked about attendance of children looked after in the city and the challenges faced and was keen to hear more about the approaches taken to improving attendance amongst that cohort. The Board were informed of attendance levels before the pandemic and how Children Looked After at primary level had a better attendance rate than their non-looked after contemporaries. In addition, there was a commitment to re-establish this performance which was impacted by the pandemic. It was also suggested that further details will be provided.




a)  That the contents of the report be noted.

b)  Additional information noted in the minutes above to be circulated to Board members when available.




Supporting documents: