England’s children’s commissioner has called for 100% attendance in schools on the first day of the September 2022 autumn term as part of a six-point plan to ensure pupils return to the classroom.
Dame Rachel de Souza said good attendance in schools should be everyone’s responsibility, and that no child must become a “known unknown” to those responsible for protecting them.
The Children’s Commissioner’s March report – Where are England’s Children? – looked at how there was no real-time live database of where pupils were absent from school across the country.
The report audited all 151 local authorities in England and estimated that 1,782,000 pupils were persistently absent from school in the 2021 autumn term.
Dame Rachel has since joined the Government’s Attendance Alliance and has argued for better use of data to tackle the issue of poor attendance, with the Government introducing its first attendance live-tracker system in response.
She said that the 100% target for September 2022 was not “arbitrary” or about blaming pupils who were not in school but that school was undoubtedly the best place for pupils to thrive and be safe.
“However, clearly for too many children, school either seems the opposite of welcoming and safe or the support to overcome obstacles to being there every day are too little, or too late or both,” she said, adding that she was on a “personal mission” to change this.
Dame Rachel said that schools needed to talk to children about why they were not in school and give them support.
She added that exclusion should lead to intervention with targeted help offered following an exclusion or suspension.
One of her six steps to boost attendance is to “let children be children”, as no child “should feel that they need to miss school to support their family” – for example in the case of child carers.
Dame Rachel said: “I believe being in school is not only the best place for children to thrive, be safe and happy and learn, but it’s also overwhelmingly what children tell me they want for themselves.
“This is not to ignore some of the very real barriers some children and their parents have in realising this goal.
“Indeed, my whole focus during this project has been to go out and find those who feel they can’t be in school, to talk openly to them and understand why they feel like that and, of course, in order to get them the support they need to turn that situation around.
“It’s not about blaming them or their parents, or ignoring those barriers. Far from it. It’s about taking these obstacles on board, recognising them, and then dismantling them.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The Children’s Commissioner’s report is vital in bringing the voice of children into our ongoing work to prioritise attendance, alongside schools, local authorities and academy trusts.
“It reinforces that school is the best place for children to be, in the classroom with inspirational teachers, building relationships with their friends.
“Our Schools Bill currently going through parliament will bring about significant changes to the attendance system, improving consistency across the country and helping tackle persistent absence.
“Local authorities will be required to keep registers of children not in school, so no child can fall through the cracks in the system.”