All schools will be ordered to hold electronic attendance and admissions registers, with central government given access to the data, under absence crackdown plans announced today.
The Department for Education has announced its intention to replace the current school census and other collections with a system that scrapes information from school registers, following a trial launched earlier this year.
Councils and schools will also have a legal responsibility to “consider” fines for pupils absent for long periods and taking unauthorised holiday under the plans, which will also set a maximum number of absence fines that can be issued before prosecution.
The DfE has now launched a consultation on the rest of its proposed reforms, with education secretary Nadhim Zahawi saying they will “improve consistency across the country and help tackle persistent absence”.
Here’s what schools need to know.
1. Schools must use electronic registers
The DfE launched a trial of a real-time attendance tracker in January. It involves data being scraped from school registers via management information system providers.
The department confirmed today that “most schools have already signed up” to the scheme, and that in the longer-term, it intends to use the data collection method to replace “existing statutory data returns to local authorities and DfE, including the school census”.
To support this, the DfE is proposing a change to the law to require all schools to keep their admission and attendance records electronically, and to “improve their ability to analyse and share data and to improve the accuracy of recording”.
2. Councils and ed sec will have data access
The government is also proposing changes to who can access admission and attendance registers, to give local authority staff and central government access to the data of all schools.
However, the DfE said the data would “not be used to hold schools to account”.
Local authority access “will be restricted to functions they have under the education acts, including the proposed new duty to seek to improve attendance currently making its way through Parliament”.
The education secretary, or someone acting on his behalf, would also be allowed to “access and take extracts from registers electronically”.
3. Schools must report long sickness absence
Until the new system is completed, existing requirements for schools to make returns to councils will remain, including informing them when pupils names are added to or deleted from admissions registers, and the name and address of any pupil who fails to attend school regularly.
The government is also proposing to add a requirement to the law requiring schools to inform councils when it is “clear a pupil will be away from school for 15 school days or more, whether consecutively or cumulatively, because of sickness”.
This is to “help local authorities fulfil their duties under section 19 of the Education Act 1996 to arrange suitable education for pupils of compulsory school age who would not otherwise receive suitable education because of illness”, the DfE said.
4. Fines must be ‘considered’ in certain situations
The DfE wants to set national thresholds at which fines must be “considered”, to replace the current system which leaves it up to councils and heads.
Ministers are proposing that penalty notices will have to be considered in the following circumstances:
• 10 sessions of unauthorised absence including lateness in a term (where support has not been successful, has not been engaged with, or is not appropriate)
• Any incidence of unauthorised holiday in term time
• Any sessions of unauthorised absence immediately following a leave of absence in term time
• Any incidence of an excluded pupil being in a public place without reasonably justification during the first 5 school days of an exclusion
The latter is already an offence, but these changes would mean councils had to consider fines for those caught.
5. Only two fines allowed before prosecution
The DfE is also proposing a national limit of two fines issued to one parent for the same child in any school year.
After this limit is reached, “prosecution should be considered at the next offence”.
6. Shake-up of how absence is recorded
The DfE has proposed a change to simplify how absences are recorded in registers, with a “single list of reasons” a pupil is attending or absent.
This would replace the system which records whether pupils are “present”, “absent”, “attending an approved educational activity” and “unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances”.
New regulations will group together cases where pupils are attending the school, another school where they are registered, or are other places for “approved education”, including learning remotely in “very limited circumstances”.
Pupils will also be grouped if they are absent for permitted reasons. Those who are not will be recorded as “absent in other or unknown circumstances”.
7. New method for recording remote ed participation
At present, pupil participation in remote education can’t be recorded in attendance registers, and schools keep separate records on engagement.
But the DfE said that as remote education technology “develops”, there “may be a need for this type of participation to be recorded”.
The government is therefore proposing allow for remote education to be recorded as “attending any other place for approved remote education”, but only where it meets a specific set of criteria.
Pupils could be recorded in this way of they can’t attend school because of a lack of transport, weather conditions, or if their school is partially or fully closed, for example.
8. Changes for older and younger pupils and for Covid
Currently, schools don’t have to record reasons for absence for pupils of non-compulsory school age. This is also the case for the temporary category covering Covid-related absence, which will exist until the end of this school year.
The DfE is proposing a law change that would require schools to record the same attendance and absence information for these pupils as for all other pupils registered at the school.
This will “enable schools to better track the absence of pupils of non-compulsory school age to help improve attendance and help pupils into good attendance habits before compulsory school age and maintain them afterwards”.
9. Deleting pupils from admission registers
The DfE is proposing four changes to the circumstances in which pupils’ names can be deleted from schools’ admission registers.
- Removing the ground for deletion when a medical officer says a pupil is “unlikely to be in a fit state of health to attend school before ceasing to be of compulsory school age”
- Requiring schools to delete a pupil’s name where they know where the pupil is but don’t have “reasonable grounds to believe that the pupil will attend the school again”
- Extend the rule preventing deletion of pupils with EHCPs from the roll of special schools without council approval to cover all school types
- Requiring councils to sign off on the deletion of children in need or subject to a protection plan