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Agenda Item No. 9

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 23rd June 2014

 

Report of the Cabinet Member for Children's Services

 

Revised School Attendance Policy

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To consult Members on changes to the School Attendance Policy to take effect from September 2014.

Recommendations

1.         That Members consider the proposed changes and advise Cabinet of any issues or concerns that should be taken into account before agreeing the revised policy for adoption by school governing bodies.

2.         That Members request an impact evaluation report in 6 months time.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         To ensure that full consideration is given to proposed policy changes to further increase school attendance.

2.         To ensure that a further opportunity for consideration of the impact of the revised policy is provided.

Background

2.         The Welsh Assembly Government’s policies for children and young people have their basis in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).  In the Vale of Glamorgan we are cognisant of the UNCRC and have reviewed our School Attendance Policy accordingly (Appendix 1).

3.         It is vital that children and young people have access to appropriate and effective learning opportunities and provision. Any barriers to learning need to be identified early and removed, so that children and young people can engage in educational provision to achieve their full potential.

4.         A child’s success at school will be affected negatively by poor attendance: lower attendance is correlated with lower attainment.

5.         Those who do not attend regularly may not be able to keep up with their work and in a busy school day it can sometimes be difficult for schools to find the extra time needed to help a child catch up. In addition, research shows that children who are not in school are more vulnerable and can be easily drawn into crime and anti-social behaviour and are more likely to be unemployed after leaving school. Securing strong, productive links between the school and the pupil's family is a key contributory factor to maintaining and improving attendance at school.

6.         Improving behaviour and attendance is an integral part of a range of educational initiatives such as the Foundation Phase, 14-19 Learning Pathways and the Engagement and Progression Strategy. These initiatives aim to ensure that children and young people in learning settings in the Vale of Glamorgan do not become disengaged from education by ensuring that provision is suitable to their individual needs.  Within the context of the School Effectiveness Framework and more recently The National Model for School Improvement attendance is a key whole school improvement issue. Through the self-evaluation process, attendance strategies can be assessed and enhanced.

7.         The Vale Education Welfare Service (EWS) aims to provide professional, quality support to children, young people, families and schools so that children and young people living in the Vale of Glamorgan benefit from the educational opportunities provided to them.

8.         The Callio initiative was developed regionally and enhanced locally to improve the consistency in approach to absence reduction.

9.         The main thrust of the Callio approach to absence reduction is focussed on ensuring that all schools implement a common set of escalation techniques when dealing with pupils presenting with low or decreasing attendance.

10.      Attendance data available to schools has been reviewed: data is now presented in categories making it easier for schools to focus on improving attendance in a particular attendance category.

11.      Missed school sessions due to poor attendance is translated to hours of lost learning for identified pupils. This is conveyed to parents via the letters home. This is proving to be a powerful tool to improving attendance.

12.      There is far greater contact between schools and parents. Schools keep parents informed of their child's/children attendance on a termly basis. The content of letters home are aligned to the common set of escalation techniques.

13.      Callio Co-ordinators have been appointed in each Secondary school to focus more closely on proactive and preventative measures to absence reduction. They work across the secondary and feeder primary schools to implement proactive measures to absence reduction.

14.      The Education Welfare Service (EWS) works in close partnership with the Callio Co-ordinators who are, essentially, part of our extended team of officers working in schools to improve attendance and wellbeing. (See Appendix 2: Callio Operating Model). 

15.      The EWS and Callio Co-ordinators, together with the school based Callio Champions, provide a more holistic approach to support schools, pupils and parents to ensure regular attendance and address problems relating to absenteeism. The Service liaises with other agencies and provides an important link between home and school helping parents and teachers to work in partnership in order that pupils benefit from the educational opportunities available locally.

16.      The main role of the EWS is to:

  • contribute to the local authority and schools' drive for school effectiveness;
  • work in partnership with schools, pupils, parents and communities to ensure educational entitlement and regular attendance;
  • link with a network of agencies providing education, health and social services for individuals with specific needs; and
  • work effectively and proactively with Callio Co-ordinators (CCs) and school based Callio Champions to increase attendance, reduce absence and improve pupil wellbeing.

Relevant Issues and Options

17.      The main change proposed to the attendance policy is tightening the discretion available to Headteachers to authorise family holidays during term time

18.      The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010 give schools discretionary power to grant leave for the purpose of an annual family holiday during term time. This means that parents do not have an automatic right to withdraw pupils from school for a holiday and, in law, have to apply for permission in advance.

19.      Following a review of the School Attendance Policy and taking into account the Regulations and Welsh Government Guidance and the views of Headteachers it is proposed that the policy advises all Governing Bodies not to authorise any request for holidays during term time, except where there are exceptional and extenuating family circumstances.

20.      The exceptional and extenuating circumstances would include and would normally be limited to:

  • family holiday request from parents who are employed by the Ministry of Defence; and/or
  • family requests for holidays due to religious beliefs.

21.      Such considerations may result in the school agreeing with the request and authorising the absence accordingly.  This means that requests for holidays during term time will not be authorised by the school unless there is a decision by the school that exceptional and extenuating circumstances apply.

22.      It is understood that this would be a uniform policy across the South Central Consortium in September 2014: Bridgend, RCT and Merthyr are presently seeking to amend their policies and the policy has previously been introduced in Cardiff.

23.      There is an expectation that parents and carers will abide by these arrangements in order to continue to secure the best possible educational outcomes for their child/children during their time in schools in the Vale of Glamorgan.

24.      Where parents keep a child away from school or where parents fail to seek permission in exceptional circumstances, the time taken will be treated as an unauthorised absence in accordance with the application of the policy.

25.      When making judgements about extended absence for pupils from minority ethnic  families, schools should ensure that full account has been taken, not only of the Regulations and Welsh Assembly Government guidance, but also of the situation of minority ethnic families in general and the particular circumstances relating to each individual case. It is important that schools show an understanding of the parents’ perspective even though the school may not be able to comply with a request for absence.

26.      Schools should ensure that all parents are aware of the school’s policy on absence.

27.      In the case of minority ethnic parents, special care should be taken to ensure that the Regulations are fully explained and understood. Interpreters should be used if necessary.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

28.      Schools have been provided with seed funding to help them establish the Callio approach in their school.

29.      Central Education Callio funding has been initially agreed for 8 school terms commencing September 2013: ending Easter 2016.  £188k of central education base budget has been made available over this period to part fund the project with match funding provided by schools.  £70k of this funding relates to 2014/15 and £48k to two terms in 2015/16.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

30.      None in this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

31.      Under the Education Act 1996 children of compulsory school age should attend school from the start of the first term commencing after their fifth birthday.  A young person ceases to be of compulsory school age on the last Friday in June of the school year in which they have their 16th birthday. 

32.      It is an offence for a parent of a child of compulsory school age that is registered at a school to fail to ensure that their child regularly attends their school.  Failure to do so ensure creates an absolute offence.  An amendment to the Education Act 1996 means that since March 2001 it has been an aggravated offence where a parent of a child of compulsory school age who knowing that their child is failing to attend regularly at school, fails without reasonable justification to cause their child to attend.

33.      Under the Education (Pupil Registration) Wales Regulations 2010 the school is required to take an attendance register twice each day, at the start of the morning session and once at the start of the afternoon session.  In the event of any action in respect of non-school attendance, it is the register that is the basis of the evidence relied upon.

34.      Under section 437 of the Education Act 1996 Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that a child for whom they are responsible is receiving a suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. 

35.      The Education (Pupil Registration) Wales Regulations 2010 gives schools discretionary power to grant leave for the purpose of an annual family holiday during term time.  There is no automatic right to withdraw pupils from school for a holiday and in law parents have to apply for permission in advance.  Such permission is usually granted in accordance with arrangements made by the governing body of the school.  The Regulations state that only in exceptional circumstances may the amount of leave granted exceed (in total) more than 10 school days in any twelve week period.

The legislative Framework:

36.      The following legislation, guidelines and documents underpin this policy:

  • Education Act 1996
  • Children Act 1989
  • Children Act 2004
  • Education and Inspections Act 2006
  • The National Model for School Improvement
  • National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services in Wales, WAG (2005)
  • Behaving and Attending: Action Plan Responding to the National Behaviour and
  • Attendance Review, WAG (2009)
  • Inclusion and Pupil Support, WAG Circular 47/2006
  • Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units, WAG Circular 001/2004
  • Improving Attendance 2006, Estyn
  • Education (Admission of Looked After Children) (Wales) Regulations 2009
  • Services for children and young people with emotional and mental health needs, Wales Audit Office and Healthcare Inspectorate Wales, 2009

Crime and Disorder Implications

37.      Children and young people who attend school regularly are less likely to become engaged in any unlawful actively.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

38.      Every child has a right to attend school regularly. The body of this report is fully compliant with the United Nations Rights of the Child.

Corporate/Service Objectives

39.      The need to secure high levels of school attendance underpins many of the Council's school performance and improvement objectives.

Policy Framework and Budget

40.      Within existing policy framework and budgets.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

41.      Headteachers have been consulted about the proposed changes affecting holidays in term time and are supportive of the change.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

42.      Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee

Background Papers

The Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010

National Model for School Improvement

United Nations Rights of the Child

Callio Attendance Strategy

Behaving and Attending: Action Plan Responding to the National Behaviour and

Attendance Review, WAG (2009)

 

Contact Officer

Lynette Jones Head of School Improvement and Inclusion

 

Officers Consulted

David Davies, Lead Officer for Inclusion

Meryl Plummer, Lead Officer for School Improvement

Nicky Sturgess, Lead Officer or Behaviour Management and Attendance

Jenny Smith, Safeguarding Officer

 

Responsible Officer:

Jennifer Hill, Chief Learning and Skills Officer