1. Czone
  2. Inclusion
  3. Attendance, behaviour and exclusion
  4. Attendance Delivery Plan 2024-25

Attendance Delivery Plan 2024-25

Executive Summary

We are committed to identifying and exploring the key drivers that need to be considered when analysing the high absence rates in East Sussex. In partnership and through our ongoing work with schools, colleges and settings we are working hard to identify the barriers that young people face in attending school. Through this delivery plan, our aim is to provide all education settings with the tools to facilitate improving attendance for our most vulnerable young people.

Our goal is to be research led. As the attendance landscape evolves we will evaluate and adapt our practice to provide a robust and timely response. We will do this by working in partnership with education settings, young people and their families, health and other local authority services.

Our work reflects the new government guidance around attendance, ‘Working Together to Improve School Attendance’, which will become statutory from September 2024 and outlines the roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders. 

In developing this delivery plan, we have consulted a range of partners, including:

  • school leaders
  • the Department for Education (DfE)
  • Primary and Secondary Boards
  • Parent Carer Forum representatives
  • young people

In response, we have looked closely at our structures, services, and resourcing to develop a model that we believe will build and develop existing partnerships.

Our Guiding Principles

Championing children

Promoting good attendance is a central focus for the local authority. We work with education providers to ensure all young people have access to good-quality education and learning. This is regardless of their circumstances. The local authority's role is to “champion children” and raise aspirations. We want to ensure young people have access to lifelong learning opportunities. This way, they can gain the skills, knowledge, and qualifications to fulfill their dreams and ambitions.

Prioritising attendance

We are committed to ensuring all children and young people have the best possible start in life.

Schools are places where children learn. They make friends, find things they are passionate about, and discover their talents. Schools are a place that is safe and where young people can flourish and achieve. Ensuring that children and young people can attend school regularly is an important part of the council’s commitment. We believe that securing excellent attendance is key to ensuring positive outcomes for children and young people.

The aim should be to attend school 100% of the time. We know that children and young people who frequently miss sessions can fall behind with their work and do less well in exams. In addition to the benefits of regular attendance upon attainment, the longer-term benefits for children and young people include their positive contribution to the wider community and their economic well-being.

Working together

Our goal is to develop a strong culture of ‘working together’ to achieve better outcomes for children and young people. Schools and settings prioritise developing effective relationships with parents and carers. They actively seek to engage with families.  They work in partnership with the Attendance Support Team and other key agencies within the Local Authority. This ensures there is a collective response.  Opportunities to share best practice are welcomed. School leaders actively promote cascading initiatives to other schools.  Attendance priorities appear in

  • the Primary and Secondary Board annual priorities
  • the SEND Implementation Plan 2022-2025
  • individual schools’ improvement planning

Our guiding principles for our partnership practice includes working with our parents and carers. This ensures closer working relationships can be effectively established within schools and settings. We will continue to develop strong connections between education and social care. We will ensure a coordinated approach to support is developed and extended through our work with external stakeholders and partners.

The National Picture

Since the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions imposed on schools, there have been increasing concerns about rising absence from schools and particularly an increase in persistent absence (PA) or severe absence (SA) levels.

In 2022/2023, the national attendance rate was 92.5% and the overall absence rate was 7.5%. This is higher than in the years prior to the pandemic.  The persistent absence rate (proportion of pupils missing 10% or more of school sessions) for 22/23 was 22.3%. The proportion of persistently absent pupils increased from 10.5% before the pandemic in 2018/19 to 24.2% in 2022/23. The proportion of severely absent pupils increased from 0.7% in 2018/19 to 1.7% in 2022/23. 

Factors contributing to this rise in absence include increased anxiety and lack of mental health support. Waiting lists for mental health services are at an all-time high. Further evidence from the Education Select Committee (September 23), note that parents are more cautious about sending their children to school with minor ailments. The committee attribute this to public health messaging during the pandemic.

The Public First research, ‘Listening to, and learning from, parents in the attendance crisis’ (September 23), found that there has been a ‘seismic shift in parental attitudes to school attendance’ and a ‘breakdown in relationships between schools and parents’.  Their research also indicates that ‘termly holidays are now socially acceptable’, ‘cost of living crisis is an underlying driver for poor attendance’ and ‘sanctions are seen as both irrelevant and antagonistic’.

The government launched new guidance in response to the decline in the national data. ‘Working Together to Improve School Attendance’ aims to support schools and settings to maintain high levels of attendance. The government have also introduced further initiatives to support the drive to improve attendance. These include Attendance Hubs and Attendance mentors.  These projects are currently being rolled out across parts of the country.

East Sussex-Local Context

In 2022/2023 the estimated absence rate for East Sussex was 8.15%.  This is higher than in the years prior to the pandemic. The Autumn term absence rate ranged between a low of 4.1% in 2015/16 and a high of 4.8% in 2019/20.

The proportion of persistently absent pupils increased from 10.5% before the pandemic in 2018/19 to 22% in 2022/23. Persistent absence means missing 10% or more of school sessions.

Local data highlights that some groups of pupils are more likely to be persistently absent (PA) than others. In 2022/23, 41% of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals were PA compared with 16% of non-eligible pupils.  Children with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) were 28% PA and SEN support 26%, compared with no identified SEN 24%.

In response to the widening gap around attendance, the local authority has reshaped and reviewed the core attendance offer to schools and settings. The offer now includes an Attendance Support Team (AST). The team provide advice and guidance around all attendance issues. including support with statutory interventions. 

The introduction of a daily Attendance Helpline and termly attendance meetings for all schools enables us to focus on emerging issues as they arise. The team uses a tiered approach to support each school to develop their practice. They work closely with the Early Help Key Work Team to ensure a consistent approach is developed and embedded. There are single points of contact linked to individual schools and settings. They support in a timely manner around school attendance concerns and offer key advice, guidance, and strategies.

The local authority is keen to ensure examples of good practice and attendance processes are cascaded to schools and models are shared. To support this, yearly attendance conferences are planned. The focus of the conference is to highlight good practice within schools and settings from across the county. It also provides opportunities for:

  • senior leaders, key support services and SEND youth ambassadors to network
  • colleagues from all phases and settings to hear national delivery plan updates
  • expert speakers to present on national issues and up to date research
  • discussion and sharing of experience

These opportunities are key to ensuring we keep the attendance narrative alive. They will help us stay responsive to emerging needs, trends, and developments as they arise within East Sussex.

As part of our investment in attendance, the Local Authority implemented a new Early Help Key Work service in September 2023. This service supports families with young people who are severely absent from school at 50% or below.

In addition, the local authority supports young people in Key Stage 4 who are identified as not attending or at risk of not attending school. The Employment and Skills Team have a range of programmes that support opportunities around employability and development of work-based skills. These include the Careers Hub, Multiply, ESTAR, Work Experience, Transform, Skills East Sussex, and Steps to Success.  These resources and activities can support the work of the Early Help Key Work team and will raise awareness of the work and projects that are available for  families and their children.

Working together in partnership across the Local Authority

We are committed to working with all stakeholders and partners. This includes Early Years settings to continue to support developments in establishing good pre-school attendance habits. We will provide all settings with training, advice, and guidance to develop robust processes and strategies. These should remain inclusive and focus on the difficulties faced by young people and families. We will develop our training offer to schools in response to emerging patterns around parental anxiety and resilience. We will continue to adapt our resources to meet demand. We will review our processes to ensure schools and settings have the support they need to improve attendance.

Early Help Key Work team

The Early Help Key Work service is a voluntary Level 2 service. It provides one to one support and in home intervention to families and young people.  The key aim is to use relational practice to engage with parents and carers and young people.  The Early Help Key Work Team focus on strategies that will support reintegration back into school. This team works across county to ensure support and interventions are in place. The team also works closely with the Attendance Support Team. This ensures continuity of support and that links with schools and settings are robust and embedded.

What do young people in East Sussex say about attendance?

Capturing young people’s voice has been integral to understanding the changing landscape around attendance.

We asked young people, including our SEND Ambassadors, why attending school is important. We held youth engagement workshops to gather their opinions. Their reasons included:

  • 'it helps you get qualifications'
  • 'to help you learn'
  • 'to get an insight into what it is like to work'
  • 'to develop friendships and socialise'
  • 'teaches resilience'

Young people also told us that barriers to school attendance include:

  • ‘classes are too big’
  • ‘mental health needs’
  • ‘physical needs’
  • ‘SEND needs and lack of appropriate places’
  • ‘transition support not appropriate’
  • ‘transport issues’
  • ‘no sense of belonging in school’

When asked 'what solutions can you think of to ensure young people attend school?' young people told us that:

  • ‘Schools need to better understand what the bigger picture as to what is happening in young people’s lives’
  • ‘schools need to focus on building relationships with pupils to get to know them better’
  • ‘curriculum not relevant to support pupils who move schools often’
  • ‘environments aren’t enabling learning as they are too busy’

This feedback is key to ensuring a sense of belonging for all young people is nurtured. This must be considered when planning attendance practices.

Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA)

Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) refers to severe difficulty in attending school due to emotional factors. In East Sussex we use the term EBSA to include children who are unable to attend rather than choosing not to attend. This is often based on a heightened level of fear and anxiety that makes school feel unsafe and something to be avoided.

Our approach to EBSA within East Sussex is aligned with Therapeutic Thinking. This focuses on how all children and young people are supported. It focuses particularly on mental health and emotional wellbeing. Therapeutic Thinking helps to develop an understanding of how to respond to those who may be communicating through concerning behaviours, such as EBSA.

When supporting a child experiencing EBSA, we see it as important to consider not only the within child factors, but also systemic and environmental factors that may be influencing their behaviours. The local authority ask that schools take a proactive approach to understanding and managing EBSA. This should be part of a whole-school initiative to monitoring attendance and promoting emotional wellbeing.

East Sussex Education Services have developed an EBSA Toolkit and associated training to support schools and parent carers. This uses the Assess, Plan, Do, Review (APDR) cycle to develop support around a child experiencing EBSA. It is vital that support is developed in conjunction with all relevant stakeholders. This should include the family and the child or young person.

Safeguarding and attendance

The local authority makes it a priority for all staff to be aware that children going missing and children who are absent from education can be a vital warning sign of various safeguarding issues. These can include:

  • neglect
  • sexual abuse
  • child sexual and criminal exploitation, such as county lines involvement.

It may also indicate mental health problems, risk of substance abuse, risk of travelling to conflict zones, risk of female genital mutilation, ‘honour’ based abuse or risk of forced marriage. Early intervention is necessary to identify any underlying safeguarding risk. It also helps prevent a child from going missing or being absent from education in the future.  This includes when problems are first emerging but also where children are already known to Children’s Social Care. This may include those on a child in need or child protection plan, or a looked after child. Going missing or being absent from education may increase known safeguarding risks within the family or in the community.

The local authority’s Safeguarding team provide support and training to all schools and settings. They also reinforce the importance of completing registers in a timely and accurate way.

All in-school absence procedures need to be followed by staff. These are a key focus of work undertaken by the school Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL). Although the DSL has oversight of attendance, the local authority encourages all staff to have professional curiosity around school absence and emerging attendance patterns and trends. Concerns should be raised with key staff within the school and setting. 

The local authority will ensure that the DSL is informed of attendance patterns, and where there are concerns for individual children the response to this will be considered within the context of safeguarding. This should include the use of the Continuum of Need and indicators, and any subsequent actions including referrals to appropriate services. 

Unfortunately, in some instances, poor attendance could be an indicator of possible neglect. Schools are reminded to consider the Neglect Matrix in making these assessments.

As part of the local authority’s recommended practice, schools are required to keep accurate and timely records of reasons for absence. This is an important part of the school’s accountability to children and their families. This will help the local authority in meeting our key responsibility to respond appropriately to welfare concerns.

Part-time Timetables

All schools, academies and free schools have a statutory duty to provide full time education for all pupils. The local authority’s Reduced Timetable Guidance for Schools, sets out the local authority’s position in relation to the practice in schools of reducing the amount of time that a pupil spends in an education setting.

As pupils of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education, reduced or part-time timetables are only allowed in exceptional circumstances, where:

  • There is a specific need for a pupil – for example, a medical condition prevents them from attending full-time education and is part of a planned re-integration
  • It is in the pupil's best interests
  • It is on a temporarybasis, stating when they're expected to return to school full time.

Further information from the DfE can be found on page 18 of its attendance guidance and page 11 of the mental health issues affecting attendance guidance.

A reduced timetable should be for an exceptional measure. It is up to the school to determine what that would be but may include reasons such as:

  • Medical reasons where a child has a serious medical condition
  • As a result of a reintegration into school following a trauma
  • A family bereavement

A part-time timetable should not be used to manage a pupil’s behaviour. (Working together to improve school attendance (publishing.service.gov.uk)

If behaviours are deemed ‘difficult / dangerous’, then this can often be an indication of an unmet need. In line with the SEND Code of Practice the school should assess needs, including involving other professionals as part of a graduated approach, whilst putting in place appropriate intervention and support and review progress.

For children presenting these behaviours, a risk assessment should be completed with predict, prevent and progress. This should be shared with all staff, embedded, reviewed and clearly link to support programmes and interventions.

A part-time timetable must not be treated as a long-term solution.  Any form of pastoral support programme (Additional Needs Plan) or other agreement must have a time limit by which point the pupil is expected to attend full-time or be provided with alternative provision.

A reduced timetable means that, by agreement with the pupil, parent/carer and school, the number of hours spent in education are reduced for a time limited period. This must be in place for no more than six weeks. Once a reduced timetable has been agreed, where no alternative provision is being provided by the school, the pupil should be marked as an authorised absence (C code) for the part of the day they are not in school.

Schools have a duty of care for all pupils who are on their school roll. The school must ensure that when a pupil is not expected to attend, there is a signed, written agreement with parents, or alternative education providers, about who is carrying out the duty of safeguarding for each session.

This guidance is not intended to be applied to those pupils where a flexible learning programme has been put in place. Provided that the school has a mechanism in place for ensuring that the pupil is attending the alternative provision and the pupil’s total educational programme is full-time, this arrangement would not be considered as a reduced timetable.

Reflective checklist - Consideration of Reduced Timetables [97.7 KB] [docx]

Reduced timetable guidance for schools, academies, and settings in East Sussex [113.5 KB] [docx]

Flexi-schooling requests

Parents have the right to request that their child, whilst registered at school, only attends for part of the week. This model is sometimes referred to as "flexi-schooling". This can be found under in  Section 10.7,  page 34 in the Elective home education: departmental guidance for local authorities.

It must be understood that schools and settings can refuse to accept such arrangements if requested by parents. 

Any time spent by children being educated at home within such an arrangement will be recorded on school records as Authorised absence.  During this absence, the school have no supervisory responsibility for the welfare of the child, and full safeguarding responsibility sits with the parents.

The Local Authority, whilst recognising the right of parents to request such flexible attendance, would not recommend it other than in exceptional circumstances. This should only be agreed for a short-term fixed period with a view to a return to full time attendance at the earliest opportunity.

Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing (MHEW) support

Schools are encouraged to adopt a school wide approach in developing provision and support for children and young people’s MHEW.  All aspects of school life, including curriculum, leadership and ethos are vital in creating a healthy and happy school environment for pupils and staff where pupils want to attend, effective learning can take place, and relationships can flourish.

The MHEW in Education Team offer the following support to schools:

  • Helping develop and implement whole school approaches to mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Providing training to identify pupils with mental health problems and set up appropriate support. Modules are available for Senior Mental Health Leads, or whole school and college staff.
  • Audit mental health practice and develop achievable action plans
  • Sharing good practice and developing resources in response to current mental health themes

To audit mental health and inform action plans schools can use the:

Statutory Intervention

Following intervention and support, if attendance issues continue to manifest, we will work with the schools and settings to provide formal support options. This may include parenting contracts and education supervision orders.  These will only be implemented after all support strategies have been tried and remain unsuccessful.

If there are any safeguarding concerns, the local authority will ensure joint working between the school, children’s social care services, and other statutory safeguarding partners. We will provide robust, professional, and proactive support swiftly. 

Should there be a stage where support is not working, being engaged with or appropriate, the local authority will enforce attendance through legal intervention (including prosecution as a last resort).