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

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

2. Managing attendance and immediate action on absence

2.1 Attendance

Attendance is defined as participation in a programme of educational activities arranged and agreed by the school, including:

  • Attendance at school
  • Learning outwith the school provided by a college, off-site unit or other learning provider while still on the roll of the school (see 2.3)
  • Educational visits, day and residential visits to outdoor centres
  • Interviews and visits relating to further and higher education or careers events
  • Debates, sports, musical or drama activities in conjunction with the school
  • Study leave for pupils participating in national exams, if arranged by the school during the period of the national examination timetable (see 10.3)
  • Activities in connection with psychological services, learning or behaviour support
  • Receiving tuition via hospital or outreach teaching services (see 2.4)
  • Work experience

2.2 School policies and procedures

Education authorities should ensure that all schools in their area have in place policies and procedures informing their management of pupils' attendance and absence. While there may be scope for local variation in policies and procedures, consistency of approach helps pupils and parents to understand expectations through transitions, for example between schools or from primary to secondary. The issues raised in this document should be reflected in local policies and procedures.

Regular reviews of policies and procedures, in consultation with parents, pupils and all staff, help to reaffirm expectations. When schools set specific objectives for good attendance, consultation on how this is to be achieved encourages buy-in, as does feedback on attendance rates during the year.

The term parent is used throughout this document and should, in the case of looked after children and those in kinship care, be taken also to mean carer.

2.3 Wherever learning takes place

More pupils are now learning in a variety of settings, gaining specific support for learning or accessing learning provided by other agencies or providers, in partnership with schools. The school's policies and procedures for managing attendance and absence should be agreed with every service involved in providing for pupils. A system should be in place to enable centralised recording of attendance and absence for each pupil, by the school in which the pupil is registered. If this is not collated by the school on a daily basis, then any action ordinarily taken by the school when there is absence should be taken on by the partner provider.

If absence is a concern for pupils accessing support from another provider, then partnership working between the provider, the school and the education authority would be expected on a similar staged basis to practice for schools (see sections 2.8 - 2.12) to fulfil the education authority's duty to register attendance at school and follow-up absence.

2.4 Providing for pupils during long-term illness

Education authorities are required to make arrangements to support the learning of children with prolonged ill-health (section 14 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 (as amended by Section 40 of the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000) through outreach teaching or other special provision. Where appropriate provision is in place, schools may record this as attendance, but where it is not in place, this is still categorised as authorised absence but the local authority must actively be making alternative arrangements to ensure that children can access education.

Where schools maintain contact with pupils and parents, arrangements to support learning during absence and on return to school can make a positive difference in enabling the pupil to progress, limiting the setbacks the disruption may cause, and help them settle with their peers quickly on return. Further guidance is available in Guidance on education of children absent from school through ill-health

2.5 Education outwith school

Parents have a duty to provide efficient and suitable education for their children under section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. Most parents fulfil their responsibility to provide efficient and suitable education by sending their children to a local authority school. Some others may choose to do so by providing home based education. Home education must be efficient education and suitable to the age ability and aptitude of the child. Section 35 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 provides that parents of children who have attended a local authority school must seek the education authority's consent before withdrawing their child. Section 35 also provides that the education authority must not unreasonably withhold consent. Parents are not required to seek the consent of the education authority in order to home educate their child if:

  • their child has never attended a public school,
  • their child has never attended a public school in that authority's area,
  • their child is being withdrawn from an independent school,
  • their child has finished primary education in one school but has not started secondary education, or
  • the school their child has been attending has closed.

More information is available in Guidance on the Circumstances in which Parents may Choose to Educate their Children at Home

2.6 High expectations

In addition to consulting on policies and procedures, schools can encourage good attendance by raising the profile of attendance and absence around the school and in school documents such as the School Handbook. Many schools link rewards systems with good attendance, where feedback from pupils helps to establish what rewards are 'desirable'. However, some absence from school is clearly legitimate ( e.g. for genuine illness) and systems should distinguish between authorised absence and unauthorised absence. For pupils experiencing difficulties, some schools require good attendance as a condition of accessing flexible learning ( e.g. the XL programme, Duke of Edinburgh/John Muir Awards or Skillforce), to ensure that a pupil's attendance improves all round rather than just for these sessions.

Parents should be encouraged to consider their own role and responsibility in motivating pupils to attend school. Some parents may allow unnecessary absence, which is no more helpful to their child than truancy. In particular, some parents may allow absence from school if they are concerned that a bullying issue or other support need is not being dealt with appropriately by the school. As outlined in Happy, Safe and Achieving their Potential, having a named contact within the school for parents to discuss pastoral care issues is important. It is important that parents are involved in encouraging children to attend school, and the parent council will have a key role in ensuring that all parents are engaged. It is likely that many children whose attendance requires attention will have parents who are "hard to reach". The parent council should be asked to assist the school in engaging these parents.

In discussing attendance with parents it is important to maintain a practical focus that recognises the challenges of parenting. Modern family life can be difficult for parents, particularly those juggling work with getting children ready for school in the morning. Schools have found that breakfast clubs improved attendance as these are a practical help to parents and pupils. Timing of transport to school in some areas can be a difficulty, particularly when short-term disruptions arise that confuse established routines. Some parents will allow their child to avoid being in trouble for lateness by missing school altogether. When looked after children are experiencing a move in placement, they may have to travel longer distances or adjust to new routes and the designated senior manager for looked after children in the school should ensure that support is in place. It should be clear to parents and pupils that sanctions for lateness will be respectful and considerate towards any family difficulties, and that when the school becomes aware of any difficulties it will do what it can to help in partnership with other services.

Parents should be given clear information, updated on a regular basis, regarding their responsibility to inform the school if their child will be absent, and via which methods, and to provide current emergency contact information. It is helpful for schools to have an answering machine for out of hours contact by parents.

Scottish Executive information for parents on school attendance and absence is available on Parentzone

2.7 Registration and recording lateness

Recording of attendance should take place at least twice a day to enable the school to note attendance and absence for each morning and afternoon session.

In most schools, a daily register of attendance is taken in the morning. In addition to noting attendance and absence, staff have the opportunity to get to know pupils and to become aware of any concerns regarding their learning, social development, safety and wellbeing. This information should be shared with other staff as appropriate to enable support to be provided, as described in Happy, Safe and Achieving their Potential. Some secondary schools have allocated a block of 'tutor group' time on a weekly basis, with tutors following groups throughout their school career, which provides an opportunity for a higher level of personal knowledge of pupils. Schools should seek to maximise opportunities for staff to get to know pupils well. In the case of looked after children the designated senior manager within the school should be aware of any particular issues which may impact on attendance and should look to find ways of supporting the young person through these. Persistent lateness, lack of preparedness for lessons, obvious bad moods or distress observed during the process of noting attendance and absence may be signs of difficulty that the school can then try to support.

Some secondary schools have opted for attendance monitoring to take place in every lesson. This can provide useful management information helping schools to monitor absence 'hotspots' effectively.

However attendance and absence are noted, it is important that the information recorded is used to inform immediate follow-up action if required and in developing patterns of attendance and absence to inform strategic intervention, where necessary. Delays between class-level recording and further action should be minimised by efficient transfer of information.

Recording lateness

Attendance and absence are recorded per half-day session, but there also needs to be a method of recording the attendance of pupils who are late. There is also a clear difference between arriving a few minutes late due to traffic problems and entering the school five minutes before lunch, particularly where bursaries are dependent on attendance. Therefore, if a pupil arrives late, but during the first half of the session, this should be recorded differently to a pupil who arrives during the second half of the morning or afternoon session. In data returns to the Scottish Government these are termed 'Late 1' (L1) and 'Late 2' (L2) (see section 10.3 Recording and Coding information).

For secondary schools using period-by-period registration, where a pupil is late but registers in any registration in periods beginning in the first half of the opening, this will be converted to an overall L1 code for the opening (even if a later period is missed). If the first registration is in the second half of the opening, this will be converted to an overall L2 code for the opening (even if a later period is subsequently missed).

2.8 Immediate action when an absence is noted

If a pupil does not attend school, the absence should be checked against details of contacts made by parents, including expected date of return to school. If a parent has not advised the school their child will be absent, then it must be assumed that they are unaware of the absence and that the pupil is either missing or truanting (see 4.1 Unauthorised absence). This should be recorded as unauthorised absence until an explanation is received by the school

Parents should be contacted when a pupil has not arrived in school, using automated call systems or other methods. If attempts to contact the parent are not successful, then emergency contact numbers, such as other family members, should be used.

In most circumstances, contact with the parent will result in the pupil returning to school. However, in rare incidents there have been more serious or tragic reasons why children have not registered at school. Schools cannot be complacent about children's safety. If the school has been unable to establish contact with the parents or carers, action must be taken to satisfy the school and the education authority that the child is safe and well. This means that a service provider, wherever the child is found ( e.g. a member of staff from any of the children's services or the police), has seen the child to be assured that he/she is safe.

If the parent cannot be contacted to confirm the whereabouts of the child, the record of absence should be passed to a member of staff with responsibility for attendance (most often a member of the school's pastoral care team or home-school link worker) to consider the information in the light of known attendance problems, support needs or current concerns about the pupil. This member of staff will be responsible for assessing what further action is required, taking into account the age of the pupil; the implications for additional support to resolve any difficulties; and, if necessary, contacting the school's child protection co-ordinator.

In the case of looked after or highly vulnerable children, when the child does not attend school this should always be followed up immediately. To enable swift action to be taken it is vitally important that the school has an up_-to-date and accurate record of the key contact information for the child's parent. In the case of children who are looked after at home, then the child's social worker should also be contacted.

In 2005 the Scottish Executive supported education authorities to pilot automated call systems to assist schools to contact parents when a child does not attend as expected; and, has encouraged further uptake of this system and made further funds available to every school to do this, in co-ordination with local authority information management system managers.

Automated call systems have been used by some authorities in all of their schools to provide information about school closures, transport disruption or severe weather arrangements. Some schools have used them to communicate positive messages to parents about individual pupils.

2.9 Children missing from education

Where there is a strong suspicion that or it has been ascertained that the family's whereabouts are not known, and extensive local authority wide searches and risk assessments have been carried out, the local authority should refer the case to the Children Missing from Education service. If there are, at any point, child protection concerns, the local authority should follow the local child protection protocol. Guidance on the circumstances and timescales of when a referral should be made to the Children Missing from Education Service is on p.25 of the Children Missing from Education section of The Safe and Well handbook,

There are many complex reasons why a family might move unannounced. Often, staff in schools are aware of children's circumstances and family connections which will enable them to find children quickly and easily or pass accurate information on to staff in other agencies. Children may simply have moved schools or have moved homes, and when the new school is contacted, information can be transferred to help the child settle quickly. Particular sensitivity should be given to children in Gypsy and Travelling families - please see 3.5 diverse school communities for further information.

Some children and families are more vulnerable and the action taken locally will be accelerated according to the level of concern for the child's safety and wellbeing. Effective local written procedures for both children who are missing from education and their subsequent tracing will assist actions taken. Guidance on this is available in Safe and Well. Education authorities have a designated manager(s) for child protection and children missing from education, who should be informed. Involvement of the Children Missing from Education (Scotland) service for national tracing, can be assisted by a systematic approach in schools to risk assessment and recording of information about the known circumstances of the child and family. Both will be enhanced by an effective approach to pastoral care in the school.

For further information, the Safe and Well handbook for child protection in education outlines what schools should do if a child disappears from view in the Children Missing from Education section.

The School-to-School system using the electronic transfer of pupil data was introduced in 2007. This will accelerate the process of identifying children who have left one school but not enrolled in a new school. Where a child has not been "matched" by the school to school database the Children Missing from Education service will be informed and support local authorities to provide jointly the human follow-up services for these unmatched cases.

2.10 Follow-up on absence

If a child's absence is authorised through parental contact, then an expected date of return to school, or further advice from parents, should be noted. If discussions between the parent, pupil and member of staff responsible for pastoral care are required to resolve any difficulties, then these should be arranged as soon as possible and need not wait for the pupil to return to school, especially if there is a concern for which additional support may be required.

If a child returns to school, but a pattern of absence is noted, then discussion with the pupil and parent is also important. In schools which have successfully improved attendance, pro-active personal contact with parents is effective in addressing individual pupils' difficulties.

Some schools contact parents by letter to advise them when attendance has fallen below a threshold set by the school. Where written communication is used, contact details should be provided of the member of staff who can support the pupil and parent to improve attendance. Parents should also be advised of any local parent support initiatives, and of any advocacy service, where a representative ensures the parent's views are provided and understood, in their area. Schools should cater for the differing needs parents/carers may have, such as those arising from a disability, or communication and linguistic barriers, and be aware that pupils can easily intercept mail obviously sent from the school. In the case of children looked after at home, the child's social worker should be copied into any communication.

Where concern about attendance is ongoing, home visits help to build relationships between parents and the school. Home visits help the school to consider whether the family has particular difficulties that they may not have shared with the school, and to consider if support should be offered via local multi-agency planning groups. Access to a home-school link worker is key to enabling good practice in home visiting and supporting families.

2.11 Attendance beyond school leaving age

Pupils who choose to stay on at school beyond school leaving age, usually 16 years of age, and their parents, should be asked to consider their continued commitment to full attendance. Some schools develop a pupil-school contract outlining these expectations. Attendance must also be monitored to ensure proper entitlement to the Education Maintenance Allowance ( EMA) The EMA is a weekly payment, paid directly to young people who stay on at school and is designed to help overcome financial barriers which otherwise may prevent them from staying on.

Education providers will be required to record attendance of EMA recipients on days when the school or college is open to pupils. Where the institution is closed on days when it would normally be open, for example due to public holidays, extreme bad weather, polling days, in-service days etc, pupils should be treated as having attended for the purpose of the EMA. Similarly, where pupils have medical or dental appointments this should be recorded for EMA purposes as authorised absence providing that an appointment card or note is provided.

Where there is a shortened week at the start or end of an official school holiday, students will be eligible for the weekly payment if the number of days the school is "open" is 3 or more (including the above exceptions) and where the student has fulfilled 100% attendance when the school was open.

Schools: in practice, schools are responsible for recording absences and notifying the local authority about the daily attendance patterns of students receiving the allowance.

Colleges: colleges are responsible for keeping attendance records and if necessary liaising with Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to clarify difficult cases.

Older pupils can be excellent role models for younger pupils, and in this regard their approach to attendance in the school is important. While programmes of learning may not be full-time, many schools involve older pupils in leading activities to benefit the school community, such as mentoring, to balance any free study periods. This ensures that 'free' study periods are usefully filled and avoids pupils regarding these periods as license to come and go as they please.

2.12 Stages of support

When absence from school is cause for concern, working through stages of support will help schools to manage the situation:

  • High quality pastoral care systems for early response to absence and signs of difficulty
  • Effective approaches to assessment and planning for additional support needs to address barriers to learning
  • Collaboration with a range of agencies through multi-agency planning groups ( e.g. Pupil Support Group; School Liaison Group, Joint Action Team) to ensure effective local child and family support
  • Involvement by the education authority in formal referral to local attendance committees, other agencies or placement in alternative services
  • Recourse to measures for compulsory compliance by parents or children, through attendance orders or referral to children's hearings
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