Schools

DfE moves ahead with e-register plan amid attendance crackdown

Electronic register mandate gives education secretary direct access to live absence rates

Electronic register mandate gives education secretary direct access to live absence rates

29 Aug 2023, 15:35

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The government will press ahead with tougher attendance rules forcing all schools to hold electronic registers that the education secretary will have direct access to.

But proposals to introduce “thresholds at which a penalty notice must be considered” for unauthorised absences remain in limbo as they were tied to the shelved schools bill.

The Department for Education has responded today to its consultation on the changes – which it hoped would help slash persistent absence rates.

But the new rules, which will need to be laid before parliament, will not come into force until September 2024 at the earliest, government said.

Concerned parents ‘carefully listened to’

More than half of parents who responded to the consultation disagreed with plans for electronic admission and attendance registers, amid concerns the data “could potentially be used punitively”.

Despite this, officials insisted that the records – also accessed by the government and councils – will ensure “better early intervention and enable partners to work together to prevent patterns of absence developing”.

“We have listened carefully to [parents’] concerns around how data will be used and kept secure,” the response document read.

“The proposals around access to attendance and admission register data remain important in identifying pupils who need support, understanding the reasons behind their absence and putting the right support in place as soon as possible.”

The government added that 92 per cent of local authority employees and 85 per cent of school and academy trust staff who responded to the consultation supported the plan. A trial has also proved popular among schools.

A new law will also require schools to inform councils when a pupil has or will miss 15 days of schools because of illness, despite councils saying they already struggle to provide alternative provision because of rising demand.

Current sickness returns are non-statutory.

Shake-up of attendance records

The document noted that the DfE will move forward with changes to simplify how absences are recorded, with a “single list of reasons” a pupil is attending or absent.

This would replace the system that records whether pupils are “present”, “absent”, “attending an approved educational activity” and “unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances”.

The document said the government also recognises that current rules relating to “B” attendance codes do not stipulate “who a school can authorise to supervise an educational activity, which has led to confusion and in some cases inappropriate recording“.

The DfE will “refine the definition” of B-codes for use in the final version of the regulations.

Meanwhile, ministers have confirmed that plans to “allow the recording of approved remote education in the attendance register” have been ditched. This came after those responding to the consultation voiced concerns “the proposal did not go far enough to ensure effective safeguarding”.  

The government also decided that it will shelve plans to mandate schools to secure local authority approval before deleting a pupil with an EHCP from its admission register.

Attendance fines ‘used inconsistently’

As part of the consultation, sector leaders and parents were also asked for their views on proposals to “improve the consistency of approach” to fines for persistent absence.

Twenty-two councils accounted for more than half of the fixed penalty notices issued in 2020-21.

Ministers wanted penalty notices to be considered following 10 sessions of unauthorised absence in a term, any incidence of unauthorised holiday or any unauthorised absence immediately after a leave of absence.

Under the plan, fines could also be handed to parents if their child is seen in a public place without “reasonable justification” within five days of an exclusion.

20% of pupils persistently absent

Despite the fact that this was linked to the now-abandoned schools bill, officials stressed the government “remains committed to improving the consistency of approach to fixed penalty notices”.

They added that the responses received during the consultation will help inform that work, “including any future legislative change”.

This comes after stats released earlier this month showed one in five pupils were persistently absent from school this year. The attendance gap between poorer children and their better-off peers has widened.

In total, 22.3 per cent of pupils missed more than one in 10 sessions in the 2022-23 academic year. This has barely improved from the 22.5 per cent rate in 2021-22, despite huge focus from schools and politicians.

Prior to the outbreak of Covid, persistent absence rates sat at between 10 and 13 per cent.

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4 Comments

  1. Sally Duncombe

    I would like to know how fining parents who are already struggling to keep up with the cost of living,and no uniform grants available anymore? So where does the money go towards because it doesn’t even go directly to the school? When a parent has beaten there head at every turn and has tried there hardest to ask for help from everyone from a medical side down to chams and young minds and even there own mp? How is taking food and clothes of our children helping to get that child back to school? As a parent our hands are tied as any punishment that us as parents received as children and I don’t mean physical punishment,is and can be seen as child abuse now adays? Even raising Yr voice is child abuse,,I personally feel trapped and powerless? How do you get a child that has been bullied terrorised humiliated and are now mentally so anxious they are physically and mentally SICK due to mental anxiety? A fine will not persuade that child to put themselves bk in a situation they don’t feel safe In?

  2. Janet Moules

    The Government needs to sort out the ridiculously long CAMHS waiting list. My child (autistic/EHCP) has been struggling back at school since the Covid lockdown. We’ve been on the CAMHS waiting list for nearly a year now and they’ve been absent from school since March. Despite several suicide attempts and crippling anxiety and depression, apparently they’re not enough of a priority to be seen. GP passes the buck to CAMHS, A&E pass the buck to CAMHS, CAMHS do nothing for years. Took us 3 years on the waiting list to even get the autism diagnosis. The DofE needs to have a serious word with the Dept of Health if they really want to sort out the absence rates.

  3. Emma Turver

    Such a lack of understanding about pupils with severe anxiety. Parents work so hard to get their children into public place yet going into school is like walking into a burning fire for many. Punitive measures are not supportive in these circumstances and one size does not fit all . The issues are far more complex. It often takes up to 18 months or more to get an echp when your child is able and masks in school. Equally it depends on the level of understanding/training of the senco in school.