Schools

Middlesbrough gets help to tackle absences

Tackling persistent absence has become a key priority for ministers after rates soared during the pandemic

Tackling persistent absence has become a key priority for ministers after rates soared during the pandemic

Middlesbrough has been chosen as the first area to receive government-funded mentoring support to tackle school absences.

Schools Week revealed in March that the government was seeking an organisation to provide mentoring interventions over a three-year period in up to five of its “education investment areas”. The pilot project offered £5 million funding.

But a tender notice published this month shows a contract value of £2.32 million. The Department for Education was asked to explain the discrepancy, but did not respond before Schools Week went to press.

Tackling persistent absence has become a key priority for ministers after rates soared during the pandemic.

The latest data shows almost one in four pupils (about 1.6 million children) in England was persistently absent in autumn last year, missing at least 10 per cent of sessions.

Middlesbrough had an absence rate of 5.7 per cent and a persistent absence rate of 16.7 per cent last year, higher than the national averages of 4.6 and 12.1 per cent.

Two areas had higher persistent absence rates: Bradford (18.5 per cent) and Knowsley (17.5 per cent). Salford’s rate was 16.7. All three are also education investment areas.

Contract documents, seen by Schools Week, state the chosen provider will support up to 350 pupils in years 6 to 11 in the first year, before expanding in the next two years to four more areas and supporting up to 1,700 pupils in total.

Council welcomes ‘ground-breaking’ absences scheme

Councillor Mieka Smiles, Middlesbrough’s executive member for children’s services, said attendance was a “key priority” and the “ground-breaking programme has the potential to shape lives for the better” across the country.

“We want our children and young people to have the best possible start in life, but too many are missing school, and in doing so are harming their life chances.

“We’re not alone in this, but it’s vital that we build on the great work we already do to ensure students fulfil their potential and don’t get left behind.”

It comes after Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner, said schools should “obsess” about attendance – but needed  more support to provide counselling and to intervene after exclusions.

Her research found children often felt things were “done to them rather than with them”, leading to a “breakdown of trust and disengagement from their education”.

The report also recommended that schools be supported to provide a “range of early support services”, such as in-house counselling. It said this was “easiest to do” through “strong families of schools”.

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