Coalition gets children back to school

This post was based upon the original data released by the DfE. The data has now been reissued in revised form although the DfE say that main trends are unaffected.

Figures from the DfE released today show absence rates in the autumn term continued to fall in 2013 when compared with previous years Overall, the national figure for those pupils missing 22 or more sessions during the autumn term has fallen from 8.3% of pupils in the autumn of 2009 – the last year of the Labour government – to 4.6% of pupils in 2013, the fourth year of the Coalition government’s oversight of education. In secondary schools, the decline has been from 10.3% in 2009 to 5.9% in 2013 or from just over one in ten pupils at risk of becoming a persistent absentee to just over one in twenty.  There are similar levels of improvement in the figures for all pupil absences over the same period.

Illness still remains the main reason for pupil absence, accounting for some 59% of all missed sessions, so the relatively mild start to the winter in2 013 may have helped reduce absence along with more pressure on parents not to take holidays during term-time despite the much cheaper prices available then compared with the peak holiday periods.

One interesting challenge for the coalition is that only 2 of the 26 UTCs and Studio Schools open last autumn had absence rates for that term that were below the national average, and three of the Studio Schools appeared to have had absence rates of over 20%. Surely, cause for a quick call from Ofsted to see what is happening here, and whether they are being used by other schools as a means of exporting pupils at age 14 with poor attendance records that might reflect badly on the schools they have previously been attending. The fact that two of the Studio Schools seem to belong to the same group might also merit attention. It may well be that they are working with particular groups of pupils, although, if so, that isn’t clear from their web site, and the schools are obviously doing good things for some pupils.

However, as nine of the 25 schools with the worst overall absence rates were Studio Schools or UTCs, and one was a Free School, this does suggest there are some questions to be asked. Interestingly, 13 of the schools with the worst absence rates are primary schools and it would be important to see whether they regularly appear in the worst 25 such schools, and if so why?

For the first time data has been produced for both Pupil Referral Units and for four year olds, and both will provide a baseline for comparison in future years.

Sadly, no school had a 100% attendance record for the autumn term, but a free school in the North West and a junior school in Hampshire recorded 99% or better attendance figures for the term.

Below I am repeating the blog I posted last year about studio schools that reveals I was concerned then about attendance rates. Clearly, the issue has not been solved.

Some Studio Schools encounter student attendance challenge

Are the government’s new studio schools getting off to a difficult start? Recent DfE figures for pupil absence during the autumn term of 2012-13 do at the very least raise questions about what is happening.

Five of the ten schools with the highest absence rates, across both primary and secondary sectors, were either studio schools or in one case a University Technical College. As all five of these schools had relatively small enrolments, the behaviour of just one or two reluctant transferees may have unduly affected the outcomes. Nevertheless, against a national rate of 5.2%, or 5.7% for the secondary sector as a whole, absence rates of more than 14% do seem a little on the high side.

Although the majority of the studio schools in the list were in manufacturing centres, with school systems that have faced considerable challenges over the years, it does seem odd that despite the variety of different specialism in these new studio schools so many have these high levels of pupil absence. It might have been though that a fresh start in a new school with a definite vocational slant to the curriculum, and often backed by well known employers, might have inspired pupils to attend regularly. On that basis, it is important to identify what, if anything is going wrong? Indeed, although two studio schools are ranked better than 4,000 in the list of all schools for overall absence rates, the other three schools with studio in their title are in the 600 worst performing school for absence rates.

By focussing on vocational trades, it may be that the early studio schools that a skewed distribution of ability and it will take time to enthuse the pupils about the value of their education after nearly a decade when school has not been the most welcoming of places for many of them. What really must not happen is that these schools become dumping grounds for the failures of the mainstream school system. The new schools coming on stream in 2013 and 2014, including the space studio school in Banbury, need to learn the lessons, not least about transfer to a new school at age 14, that these schools have had to encounter in their early stages of development. It would certainly not be acceptable to either turn a blind eye to high levels of absence in these new types of school or to accept it as a part of the deal for the future of education in England.

As the responsibility for these schools lies with Ministers in Westminster, so officials in the DfE, as would any competent local authority, must ask these schools for the preliminary figures for term two. If these so no improvement over term one of the academic year, action must be taken now. Not to do so will reveal to the education community that while it is acceptable  for central government to castigate local authorities for poor outcomes, government schools are able to produce even worse outcomes with impunity.








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