We thought you'd appreciate some more information on term-time absences, as some of you will have received letters regarding your children's attendance.
Absences due to illness are unavoidable in most cases, and we know that you make every effort to get your children to school on time, each day - thanks very much for that. There are also times when a child is ill in school and we have to ask you to pick them up early. And, of course, the '48-hour rule' applies when pupils are physically sick.
We all know that the occasional headache or tummy-ache can often soon disappear when children get into class with their friends. This phenomenon has not changed even from the days when the school staff were at primary school themselves! Let's not talk about how long ago that was.
But there's no getting away from the fact that good attendance is vital to good progress. This page explains school's position in this area, and our official duties and responsibilities to the Department for Education (DfE) and Derbyshire County Council (DCC).
There are several ways a parent or carer can inform us of absence, and of course we have to be satisfied that it's someone with parental responsibility giving us the information:
For safeguarding reasons, it really is vital that you let us know each day why your child is absent from school. If we don't hear from parents, we will text first and then ring to ensure that they are safe at home.
In some cases, if we're particularly worried or have not had a response from a text or phone call, we'll do a home visit and then if necessary inform social care and the police, who can do a welfare check on a child at our request. This is something we don't want to have to do, but we have a duty of care to follow up on the absence if we're at all concerned.
There are several codes in use for recording attendance and absences. Two are recorded each day, for the morning and afternoon sessions. Here are the most common.
Looking at this from a parent's perspective, it is essential that you let us know the reason for absence, otherwise it has to be marked on the register as an 'O'. Unauthorised absences (including code U for late arrivals after the register closes) are the reason that some parents nationwide have been fined or taken to court for their child's poor attendance.
Each term, we send out letters to parents whose child's attendance has fallen to 90% or below. This could have been due to a holiday at the beginning of the year or a spell of illness, particularly in the autumn and spring terms when the flu and cold bugs are thriving. We don't enjoy sending these letters out, but we hope you understand that we have a duty to alert parents to their child's attendance.
Ongoing poor attendance is shared with our Education Welfare Officer (EWO), to whom we report each term. This can lead to an Attendance Panel Review Meeting at school. The aim of these meetings is to give school, parents and the EWO the chance to sit together and look at reasons for absence, the impact this is having, and then discuss ways to improve the situation.
In line with Government and Local Education Authority policy, any holidays taken in school time have to be recorded as an unauthorised absence. Our school is accountable to the DfE and DCC for attendance.
Holidays in term-time are the main reason for lower attendance, and DCC ask schools to refer absences to them for the issuing of a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). We use NAHT guidance for 'exceptional circumstances' when making a decision about what is deemed authorised or unauthorised - and our reasons are closely monitored and checked by those above us. We have authorised a number of days off due to exceptional circumstances (e.g. day of wedding or funeral, etc.) but most do not fall under this category and have to be designated as unauthorised. This is then relayed to DCC who decide whether to issue a FPN. Not all parents are fined, as the previous year's attendance is also taken into account.
The FPN is not a school matter. It is not levied by school, and we do not see a penny of the fine being issued!
Regarding holidays, we really do empathise with parents, as we know that holidays taken in term time are considerably cheaper than those taken in school holidays, and we also know that some of our parents can only get time off work on specific dates.
The only advice we can give is that if you are going to take your child away in term-time, please do send a letter to Mr Blake and inform the school office so that we know where your child is, and that they are safe. Also, it isn't always necessary to miss a whole week or two weeks of education: sometimes just a couple of days either side of a school holiday can make the holiday significantly cheaper. To be clear and transparent, we are not condoning this, but we accept that some parents will always take their children on holiday in term-time regardless of a fine.
If attendance drops below 85% over a year, we have a duty to make a referral to the School Nurse for a Health Assessment. This referral is done as a statutory duty and does not require consent. To put this 85% in perspective, it works out at 29.5 missed sessions - or just under fifteen days. Fifteen may sound a lot, but a week’s holiday, delays in flights to add another day, a cold in February, flu bug in March etc., and these days quickly add up.
We've had a few conversations with parents regarding 'it's only the last day of term'-type absences. We agree, the last few days of term are sometimes used as a time where the children are developing more social skills than academic ones, and the emphasis is more on pastoral work and enjoying school life with friends as a reward for hard work well done. However, the absence does still count in terms of figures and contributes to the overall attendance, which in turn may trigger a referral. Again, this is one of school's statutory duties which we are duty-bound to follow.
Absences do affect how well children do in school. In fact, looking at our data, only 36% of our pupils whose attendance is less than 90% are on-track to meet Age-Related Expectations by the year end. If you flip that statistic on its head, 64% of our pupils with poor attendance are falling behind.
On the face of it, 90% attendance looks reasonable. But if you stretch that out over a child's time in school, 90% from Reception to Y9 means that a child has missed a whole school year!
Normally, lessons in school are progressive. At the start of a new topic, children learn the first ideas and 'building blocks' which are then built on over a week or term to help each child secure their knowledge and skills. Later, more advanced lessons rely on this earlier understanding to move the children forward. Some parents have asked for extra homework to help keep their children on-track during term-time holidays; and while this can help somewhat, it is the teaching and interaction in the classroom that makes the best impact on a child's academic progress.
Absences cause gaps in children's understanding which then have to be filled in. Essentially, they're playing catch-up. This means that a Teaching Assistant who normally works with a particular group or child may need to be reassigned so that the child who was absent can have the extra input they need to catch up. In these cases, the absence is impacting on other children's education too.
For every school, the issue of children's absences is always difficult; but please be assured that our intent here is not to upset anyone, nor to be heavy-handed or awkward. Our intent is to keep you informed about our duty to your children as learners, yourselves as parents and also to the authorities that regulate school. We implore anyone who is struggling to get their child into school to contact their child's class teacher initially (and then Mr Blake if the situation doesn’t improve) to discuss the reasons and work on ways to improve attendance.