Included, engaged and involved: part 1 - attendance in Scottish schools

Guidance on the management of attendance and absence in Scottish schools.

1. Introduction

The Scottish Government aims to promote good attendance at school. Absence from school, whatever the cause, disrupts learning. This draft guidance replaces Circular 5/03 and the subsequent Addendum in September 2003. It draws together advice on good practice and establishes requirements regarding classifying and recording attendance and absence.

In addition to the classification of attendance and absence, this guidance seeks to explore and address wider issues around the promotion and management of good attendance and the prevention and reduction of absence.

This guidance seeks to make stronger links between absence and the protection of children. This is supported by funding which has been made available for automated call systems in schools to enable them to respond immediately when children, without explanation, do not arrive at school and, by the Children Missing from Education service which supports local authorities with the tracing of children across local authority boundaries and across borders.


This guidance is aimed at schools and education authority staff. It is issued by the Scottish Government. It makes general references to law and legislation but is not an authoritative statement of the law. Interpretation of the law is a matter for legal advisers and ultimately the courts. Readers may wish to take legal advice regarding any particular set of circumstances.

Staff in pre-school establishments may also find this guidance useful as an indicator of good practice in managing attendance and absence.


Included, Engaged and Involved is issued at an exciting time in Scottish education. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that every child gets off to the best start in life; and, focusing on the child as learner, to providing support and learning journeys that respond to individual needs and potential. To these ends, the Scottish Government is committed to Curriculum for Excellence and to making its aims a reality for every child and young person in school.

Skills for Scotland, A Life Long Skills Strategy 2007 sets the context for this guidance. Skills mean personal learning skills, literacy and numeracy, core skills such as communication, problem solving and working with others, employability skills, and vocational skills. Young people's education, including compulsory education, lays the foundations for skills and work, with a major bearing on participation in society and work in later life.

Key elements in supporting positive development of those skills include providing high quality school education, and making sure that all young people have positive opportunities to learn and develop. The design of Curriculum for Excellence will increasingly enable schools and other education providers to help young people develop the skills that will underpin their personal, social and economic futures. The new curriculum will encourage schools to provide pupils with increased opportunities to build work related knowledge, experience and skills. This system will provide more engaging and personalised support and approaches to learning to provide opportunities that will engage, motivate and engender a culture of enterprise and ambition in schools.

Attendance at school should be clearly linked to schools' overall approaches to promoting positive behaviour and approaches to providing guidance and pastoral care. Both are underpinned by the development of positive relationships and emotional literacy in whole school communities. The Scottish Government is firmly committed to creating peaceful and positive learning environments; and, to supporting schools to tackle more serious indiscipline. This includes the use of flexible curriculum, additional support staff, homelink workers, and a range of approaches such as staged intervention, restorative practices, solution oriented approaches, The Motivated School and Social, Emotional, Learning Frameworks ( SELF) ( to help schools and education authorities develop children's pro-social behaviour, resolve conflict and tackle challenging behaviour. Standards for personal support for all children have been established in our guidance Happy, Safe and Achieving their Potential, 2005.

Links to health promotion in its widest sense are clear. The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007 places a duty on local authorities to ensure that schools are health promoting. This duty will commence on 3 January 2008, building upon work already done. A focus on promoting the emotional well being of all those within a school community links to the overall approaches to promoting positive behaviour set out above, and to personalised support.

Giving every child a strong start in life includes meeting the needs of young people who need more choices and chances, and who are more at risk of not engaging with or benefiting from compulsory education. Risks could relate to missing education for legitimate reasons such as illness, or through disengagement from education. The Scottish Government has prioritised supporting vulnerable children and families. A focus on, and priority of, improving outcomes for looked after children through the implementation of We Can And Must Do Better will be maintained, as will a focus on children in special circumstances, for example, those with additional support needs, those in the youth justice system and those in difficult home circumstances.
There are particular responsibilities for local authorities as corporate parents of looked after children, whether looked after and accommodated (ie. in foster care or residential care) or looked after at home (ie. with birth parents or in kinship care). As corporate parent local authorities have a statutory responsibility to ensure that children and young people receive education which is directed towards achieving their full potential (section 2(1) Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000), and this can present specific issues in relation to attendance and absence, as well as exclusion, which are covered in this document.

The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 provides a framework for assessing children's needs and helping them overcome barriers to learning by planning and collaborating to provide support.

There is significant work underway nationally, promoting more effective partnership working in areas such as domestic abuse, children affected by parental substance misuse, mental and emotional wellbeing ( HeadsUp Scotland: the National Project for Children and Young People's Mental Health, 2003), and young carers ( Care 21 Report: The Future of Unpaid Care in Scotland, recommendation 2, February 2005).

In addition, the importance of promoting good attendance at school is highlighted by concerns about the safety and wellbeing of children who are not at school. Child protection is of paramount importance and non-attendance at school may indicate a child is at risk. Our national guidance, The Safe and Well handbook, 2005 provides comprehensive advice on policies and procedures for schools. It also provides information on the Children Missing from Education (Scotland) service which supports the tracing of children who have disappeared from view of schools and education authorities.

Children's safety and wellbeing can be compromised by their own behaviour. Young people may avoid school and become involved in more negative activities in the wider community, sometimes leading to more serious concerns of offending or substance misuse. Children's attendance may also be compromised by the actions of others, for example their parents' involvement in substance misuse.

For every child to achieve their potential, all schools must consider each pupil's positive engagement with learning and their level of involvement in the school community. The Scottish policy context allows greater flexibility for professionals to develop creative approaches to enthusing and engaging learners, and for developing effective responses to the support needs of their pupils.

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