School attendance and safeguarding

In this blog, Luke Ramsden (Safeguarding Lead and Deputy Headteacher for St Benedict’s School, Ealing) highlights key links between attendance and safeguarding. He also details the additions needed in every school’s attendance policy for the new academic year due to Covid-19.

The Importance of Attendance for Safeguarding

In writing about the importance of attendance for safeguarding it is rather surprising that there is only one brief mention of attendance in Keeping Children Safe in Education (section 18), that if a student who is ‘frequently missing/goes missing from care or from home’ this is an indicator of a potential safeguarding issue. Despite this, having a clear and effective attendance policy and practice is the first key protective factor for children.

Not only can regular absence, particularly unexplained absence, be a red flag for safeguarding issues, but only when children are in school can they talk to staff and be given support for any pastoral and safeguarding problems. Furthermore, as has been widely seen and discussed in recent months, ‘Missing out on lessons leaves children vulnerable to falling behind. Children with poor attendance tend to achieve less in both primary and secondary school.’ (Extract from p. 5 of School Attendance: Guidance for Schools).

Key Points on School Attendance and Safeguarding

There are a number of key elements in a school’s attendance policy that are especially important from a safeguarding point of view:

1. The role of staff in taking registers

As part of safeguarding training each year, and especially with new members of staff, it is worth re-emphasising the importance of taking accurate registers in every lesson as part of school’s safeguarding requirement. Only the morning and afternoon registration are legally required, but any absenteeism from individual lessons could potentially indicate a safeguarding issue above and beyond the academic concerns of missing classes.

2. Emergency contact numbers

In case of unexplained absence (or any other emergency), schools should have at least two emergency contact numbers for each student. This provides additional options for making contacts with a responsible adult if a child is missing school and is identified as a welfare and/or safeguarding concern.

3. The role of parents

It is vital for schools to ensure that parents/guardians, particularly those who are new to the school, understand the importance of supporting the school’s attendance policy and communicate with school in advance whenever there is a reason for absence.

Although not required, it is good practice to ask that parents/guardians should inform the school if they are going to be away from home overnight during term, and who will be looking after the child/children during this. You should ask for this person’s contact number if not already known by the school.

4. Escalating attendance issues

Schools must be very clear in their attendance policy what actions they will be taking if attendance problems grow worse. Parents may not be happy if concerns are being raised, so having a clear and well communicated policy can ease this conflict, ensuring they understand that these concerns are being raised consistently with any family as standard procedure.

The policy should state what level of attendance will lead to the school contacting the parents with concerns. Even if ongoing poor attendance has a clear and legitimate reason, such as illness, the school might want to ask for more evidence for this, for instance doctors’ notes, to ensure that they have supporting evidence to explain the low attendance.

Similarly, the policy should also be clear what level of attendance concern will lead to the school contacting the local authority. Parents will want clarity about why the school has escalated the case to an external agency and will be reassured if it is clear that you are following an objective set of criteria.

Updates to the Attendance Policy for the Ongoing Covid Pandemic

Understanding Code X for Coronavirus Absence

Government guidance on Recording attendance in relation to coronavirus (2020) states that the key difference this year is that there is a new attendance code X that is to be used for ‘non-attendance in circumstances related to coronavirus’. This new category does not count as absence for statistical purposes to ensure that parents are not penalised.

The crucial element for schools to understand is that code X does not apply to absence due to illness caused by coronavirus, it is to indicate that a student is absent from school because they are following government guidelines about self-isolation or lockdown.

If it is confirmed that a student is absent because they are unwell with coronavirus then they will be marked as ill (I) as normal.

Practical Example of How to Use Code X

To give an example, if a student is required to self-isolate as they have suspected coronavirus symptoms Code X should be used for school absence while they are waiting for a test. If they then test positive, from that point on they should be recorded as unwell (I) and only return to school when they are not symptomatic.

If a student has to self-isolate because someone else from their household has coronavirus symptoms then that would be recorded with code X. Similarly if a student has to self-isolate due to quarantine after foreign travel or because of a local lockdown they would be registered with code X unless they actually become ill in which case they should be recorded as ill (I).

Returning to School After Self-Isolating

If a student is self-isolating parents are required to inform schools of the outcome of a Covid test, but do not have to provide any proof of a negative test before they return to school.

Remote Learning

All schools will have been planning this since before the summer, but it is important to remember the government’s very clear guidance that ‘If a pupil is not attending school due to circumstances related to coronavirus, we expect schools to be able to immediately offer them access to remote education. Schools should keep a record of, and monitor engagement with this activity, but this does not need to be tracked in the attendance register.’

Other Useful Resources:

Luke Ramsden
Safeguarding Lead and Deputy Headteacher

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