The government has asked schools to sign up to a daily attendance tracker trial which will collect real-time data from their registers to help address absences more quickly.
The new automated system may even replace other forms of attendance data collection if the trial is successful.
The Department for Education will run the trial over the “coming months” to see whether daily attendance data can help the government “understand and manage” sector-wide trends.
If “big challenges” are seen in certain areas or groups of schools, the DfE wants schools, councils and academy trusts “to be able to use it and seek out support and understand what may be causing children to be absent from school”.
The trial will be run by edtech firm Wonde, which will ask for schools’ agreement to share daily pupil-level and attendance data with the DfE.
It will then be automatically extracted from their management information systems, with “no daily action” by schools required.
The DfE told leaders in an email today that it sees the trial “as the first step towards a more efficient approach to data collection that is less burdensome for schools”.
It forms part of a raft of measures announced today to tackle rising absence rates, including new requirements for schools to publish attendance improvement plans.
It also follows calls from children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, for “live” attendance data to help identify between 80,000 and 100,000 children who are not on school rolls.
“We need to see the attendance data now,” she told MPs earlier this month.
The government said its new automated daily data collection trial would reduce administrative work, and “potentially help schools, academy trusts, local authorities and central government “spot and address system-wide issues more quickly if the trial is successful”.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the new proposals would help to “end the postcode lottery of how attendance is managed in different schools and parts of the country, and make sure every child and family gets the best possible support to attend school as regularly as possible”.
New system could replace other collections
The trial will assess the quality of data collected, as well as its potential to “replace other forms of attendance data collection to reduce burdens on schools”.
The government will also look at how the data can be made available to schools, trusts and local authorities “to help them identify and manage local trends and issues”.
However, the DfE said the data would not be used for decision-making or to make judgments about what constitutes a school causing concern. It will also not be used for inspection, decisions around academisation or moving schools in and out of trusts.
Instead, “termly census data will continue to inform these decisions”.
The DfE said it would manage the data collected “in compliance with data protection laws, and the Department’s own data protection policies”.
Children’s commissioner de Souza said earlier this month: “We need to be able to look – I don’t see why, it’s only a limit of our current management information systems – that we can’t look and see who is in school now.
“At the moment we can only see the percentage of kids who weren’t in school, we don’t know if they’re the same ones as yesterday or today. So I really want to see our data systems upgraded and just those basic things would give us a help.”
de Souza is also working with a number of councils to “interrogate their data and step up efforts to support children that are persistently absent from school”, the DfE said.
Schools are being asked to sign up to the trial “from today”.
The trial is “part of our ambition to introduce more automated data collection in the future, high participation will help us achieve that ambition”, the DfE added.