Council attendance staff cuts 50 times bigger than new support

DfE has hired 13 absence advisers, but investigation suggests over 600 attendance staff have been slashed from councils

DfE has hired 13 absence advisers, but investigation suggests over 600 attendance staff have been slashed from councils


Councils are “unlikely to have capacity” to meet tougher school absence duties as new figures show attendance staff numbers have been “decimated” by a third in a decade.

Under reforms to crack down on school absence, town halls will have to provide a minimum attendance support offer to pupils, and their families and schools.

Last autumn, 23.5 per cent of pupils missed more than 10 per cent of sessions, up from 13.1 per cent in pre-pandemic 2019.

Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, has also warned of between 80,000 and 100,000 pupils dropping off school rolls.

The government has hired 13 new attendance advisers to help councils drive through its reforms.

But an investigation by Schools Week has found nearly 50 times as many advisers in charge of school attendance at councils have been cut over the past 10 years.

Attendance support has ‘disappeared’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said: “A huge amount of support has disappeared”.

“The government maintains that improved attendance is a priority, while failing to provide the necessary investment to help schools achieve this aim.”

Freedom of information data from just over a third of local authorities found the number of staff monitoring and encouraging school attendance dropped from 672 in 2011 to 445 in 2021, a drop of 34 per cent.

Covid schools absences school attendance

Extrapolated to cover the whole country, this would mean a drop in staff numbers from 1,816 to 1,202.

The decreases come in the wake of austerity-driven cuts to local authority budgets since 2010, including the £600 million education support grant that was scrapped in 2015.

Councils have also reduced education staff as more schools have become academies.

But new duties will require councils to track local attendance data and devise a “strategic approach to attendance”, and regularly “bring schools together” to communicate messages.

They must also hold “targeted support meetings” about pupils at risk of poor attendance and provide “multi-disciplinary support” for families.

A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “With councils having fewer attendance staff, they’re unlikely to have the capacity to take on greater responsibilities.”

‘Meeting reforms will be huge burden’

In the London borough of Hackney, the number of full-time-equivalent staff working on school attendance fell from 18 in 2011 to 5.6 in 2021 – although 75 per cent of its schools are still local authority-maintained.

Anntoinette Bramble, the borough’s deputy mayor, said that meeting the additional responsibilities would put a huge burden on already stretched funding and capacity.


In Sheffield, the number of staff directly supporting schools on attendance fell from 55.49 to 22.46. However, the council now only maintains about 38 per cent of the area’s schools.

Most of the reduction came between 2011 and 2012, when its wider education welfare service was disbanded.

In Wigan, attendance staff numbers more than halved from 20 in 2021 to 9.4 last year.

Catherine Pealing, the council’s assistant director for education, said responsibility for attendance “doesn’t all sit with the local authority, it sits with families, the school and our early intervention services”.

“Our allocation of attendance officers is not the sum of support to meet this new duty, but will be supported by a multi-agency response.”

Numbers in the south London Borough of Sutton have dropped from 9.96 to 2.33.

A spokesperson said it was a “challenge” that the new responsibilities did not come with extra funding “but we aim to fulfil our statutory responsibilities within the financial restraints of the initiative”.

Some councils, however, have increased attendance staff numbers. In Bedford, numbers increased from three to 10.6, and in Greenwich, south London, they  increased from 6.3 to 10.24.

Cheshire East’s team has grownfrom 10.24 to 19.21. A spokesperson said it would give the council “a strong foundation” to meet its responsibilities under the new guidance.

‘Reforms can be achieved by better use of resources’

The department said in its “burdens assessment” for the reforms earlier this year that they could be delivered through “better use of existing resource”.

It even claimed only 1,276 staff nationally would be needed to enact the changes, and that councils could save as much as £285,000 a year by 2025 from a reduction in “costly” legal interventions.

But the LGA said the analysis did not “adequately capture the additional workload”.

A DfE spokesperson said attendance was a “shared responsibility”, adding that the school sector had “changed significantly over the past 10 years and multi-academy trusts play a leading role in encouraging school attendance”.

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