New class of challenging schools?

The DfE today released the latest data for absence during the autumn term of the current school-year. As ever, there is a mass of interesting data in the figures that those with responsibility for school outcomes will want to consider in detail.

When the data for the same term last year was published I commented about the relatively large number of UTCs and Studio Schools with significant numbers of pupils that past the threshold where they would be considered as persistent absentees. This year, the threshold is set at 10% absence – for whatever reason, down from a previous level of 15%. It is interesting to see that 19 of the 50 secondary schools with the largest percentages either at or above the 10% level are UTCs (7) or Studio Schools (12). A further three are Free Schools. So, almost half the schools filling the top 50 places are new categories of schools. The next largest group are sponsored academies (16), followed by maintained schools (8) and convertor academies (4).

Some 40 local authority areas are represented by these 50 schools. Liverpool, has the largest number with 5 schools in the list. Other authority areas with more than one include, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Essex and, a surprise to me, Oxfordshire which has two schools in the list – an academy and a maintained school currently seeking to become an academy. Both are in the north of the county.

Another surprising fact is the relative absence of London schools from the list. There are only two London schools in the 50, and one is a UTC. There are also relatively few schools located in the Home Counties, so that makes the Oxfordshire schools stand out even more.

From the data it seems that around a quarter of local authority areas have at least one school where absence is potentially a serious issue for some reason. Some of the UTCs and studio Schools are relatively new and it may be that local schools used the opportunity of their opening to steer some of their challenging Year 9 pupils towards the new provision in the hope that a new environment would provide a new start for the teenagers. Seemingly this works in some cases, but not in all.

I am not sure whether the Secretary of State will want to investigate the leadership at these 50 schools, and those just below them in the rankings, ahead of coasting schools or whether they should be offered more time to improve attendance. Certainly, if Ofsted aren’t monitoring the situation already, then I am sure that the schools can expect a visit in the near future.

The publication earlier this week of Ofsted’s letter to Suffolk means that local authority officers and members need to accept some responsibility for challenging schools as a part of their responsibility for all pupils, regardless of the type of school that they attend. A failure to do so might well lead to the Authority being regarded as inadequate. Perhaps the new Education Bill will recognise this duty and offer new powers to local government; perhaps it won’t, preferring instead to hand responsibility to regional commissioners.

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