School-Home Support can offer practical help to schools, families and pupils. Pupils like Dana, 7, who was missing 30 per cent of her lessons

Department for Education absence statistics show a welcome reduction in the number of children who are persistently absent from school. About 67,000 fewer children missed 15 per cent or more of their school sessions in the academic year 2013-14. However, nearly 250,000 missed almost a day a week, and for many it is much more than that.

Disappointingly, the data also shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to be persistently absent. This difference in attendance is mirrored in the attainment gap, a gap that has remained stubbornly high despite the £1.9 billion spent through the pupil premium.

Although the media loves to highlight term-time holidays, this is a minor reason for children from the poorest families missing school. Having no clean school uniform to wear because it is Wednesday and the child has only one shirt and there is no washing machine at home is, sadly, a more common reason.

Dana, 7, had to wash her own clothes by hand. But she was often dirty and smelly

Practical steps can solve the problem almost immediately. School-Home Support (SHS) practitioners can apply to our welfare fund for money to buy several spare shirts (and other essentials, such as underwear) and a washing machine. The immediate problem is solved, and it is the start of a trusting relationship with a family so that we can begin to resolve any underlying issues. More often than not, there are multiple and complex issues.

Take Dana, whose attendance was at 71 per cent. At age seven she was washing her clothes by hand and was the main carer for her mother, Sue, who has physical disabilities and mental health issues. Dana’s absence was due to her responsibilities at home and was exacerbated by bullying (she was often dirty and a bit smelly). Sue was complicit in her missing school because of her own anxieties about the bullying; it had happened to her, too. As a result Dana was showing aggressive and disruptive behaviour and very poor attendance. Things were not easy financially either as Sue’s incapacity benefit had been stopped.

What did we do? After buying essential clothing and a washing machine, we reached an agreement with Sue to support her to ensure Dana maximised her educational chances.

At a meeting with key members of school staff we shared Dana’s experiences of bullying. A bullying diary was started so she could communicate more comfortably with staff as she had been frightened to talk to them about it. A named member of staff was chosen to support this. We tried to get Dana into a young carers’ support group, but there’s an age bar and she can’t attend until she is nine; however she is guaranteed a place then.

The SHS practitioner supported Sue with her anxieties about Dana going to school. She explained the strategies put in place to help Dana and set up regular bullying diary checks so Sue could monitor progress and the (lack of) incidents.

Sue was also helped to apply for employment support allowance (ESA) and to go on an “into work” support programme. Referrals were made to local agencies who could support her financially with outstanding bills and unexpected costs.

Dana’s attendance improved. She is happy at school, there have been no further incidents of bullying and she is achieving well. Sue is looking forward to starting work.

That is a lot of resource to support one child but it will make the difference between educational success and failure for her. And the knock-on effect on her classmates will be positive too.

Schools should be congratulated on their work over the last couple of years which has reduced the number of students missing too many lessons. There needs to be a continued emphasis on reducing absence and this must be targeted at children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds so that we can close the gap in attainment that has persisted for too long.

If you’d like to know more about SHS, please contact us.

@SHSorgUK | @JanTallis | www.shs.org.uk