3. Managing authorised absence
3.1 Authorised absence
Schools may authorise absence when they are satisfied by a legitimate reason, provided usually by the parent or self-certified (via a note, email or phone call) or may be provided by another service provider (via a note, appointment card or phone call), such as:
- Illness where no learning provision is made
- Medical and dental appointments to be recorded in separate category (see 3.3)
- Meetings prior to, and in, court (see 3.2)
- Attendance at, or in connection with, a Children's Hearing or Care Review, or appointment with another service provider, e.g. social worker (see 3.5)
- Religious observance (see 3.5)
- Weddings or funerals of those close to the family
- Arranged absence in relation to children in Gypsy/Traveller families (see 3.5)
- Participation in non-school debates, sports, musical or drama activities agreed by the school
- Lack of transport - including due to bad weather
- Exceptional domestic circumstances (see 3.6)
- Only those family holidays agreed by the school to be taken in exceptional circumstance (see 3.6)
- Period of exclusion to be recorded in a separate category (see 3.7)
3.2 Children with complex lives
Some pupils will have a high degree of interaction with a range of services and with other systems, such as children's hearings, court appearances or involvement with social workers for supervision or care planning. While absences for these reasons may be recorded as authorised absence, other services must be encouraged to recognise that access to learning is important. Continuity of schooling, stability and consistency are crucial to vulnerable children, as is avoiding the stigma of visible intervention which sets them apart from their peers. Through Integrated Children's Services Planning, all children's services must consider what steps can be taken to reduce absence from school as a result of these appointments, necessary though they may be.
Some vulnerable young people express their anger and hurt through challenging behaviour in school or disengagement from learning. In these circumstances, it is tempting for staff in many services to regard school as a lower priority for these pupils. However, where a school perseveres with maintaining a relationship with them, it can be an important source of consistent and long term support, positive adult and peer relationships, and a place where their talents and potential are recognised and supported, leading to achievement and self esteem. It is therefore important that from senior managers to practitioners in all children's services, there is a clear vision that all pupils should be supported to benefit from school education as far as possible. Staff at all levels should be aware of the policies and procedures in schools in relation to attendance and pastoral care, and should be prepared to work in partnership with schools to provide support and encouragement for good attendance. There is an additional responsibility to looked after children, where the local authority has a statutory obligation as a 'corporate parent' in terms of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
Schools may authorise absence where families are experiencing exceptional domestic circumstances which are distressing, such as, for family bereavement. However, authorising absence should not delay the process of considering how the school and other partners can plan to support the child and family, helping to minimise longer-term absence. For pupils who are looked after or looked after and accommodated, the authorisation of absence for exceptional domestic circumstances should be considered carefully with the other multi-agency partners to consider whether absence from school is in fact beneficial, and where it is, to ensure appropriate supports are in place.
3.3 Medical and dental appointments
For most children, it may be necessary at some time to attend medical, dental and other health related appointments during school hours, which schools should record within a Medical and Dental category within 'authorised absence'. However, parents and pupils should continue to be encouraged to arrange appointments, whenever possible, outwith school hours.
In remote areas, keeping health appointments may require significant travel and cause more disruption to school attendance. Education authorities in all areas may use their partnership with child health services to ensure that there is a flexible approach to appointments, particularly for pupils where attendance at school is particularly important, such as during exam periods, and that some services are provided on site within schools, to minimise disruption for pupils.
3.4 Different lives, different needs
Erratic attendance at school may be a sign of a range of circumstances affecting a child or family, such as domestic abuse, a parent involved in substance misuse, or that a child has caring responsibilities. In these circumstances, parents may allow a child's absence to avoid their difficulties being known by the school, particularly where the family fears that if their circumstances become known, there will be unwanted intervention or children may be taken into care.
The Safe and Well handbook provides an A-Z guide to a range of issues and circumstances experienced by different children, and outlines what schools may need to be aware of in order to support them effectively.
Positive relationships with schools start through the informal, casual contact when parents drop younger children off and collect them. Schools that capitalise on these opportunities to build a rapport and some trust, eventually become trusted supporters of vulnerable families and a gateway to other services. This positive relationship can be transferred to secondary school as the child makes the transition, by ensuring pastoral care and home-school link staff start transition arrangements early in P6 and P7 and make as much contact as possible with children and parents, informally and individually. Practice for Positive Relationships - Reaching out to families describes a range of good practice in both primary and secondary schools. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/07/23154948/0. Promoting positive parental involvement is also a key function of the parent council, which should be actively involved in developing school policy and practice, as well as encouraging all parents to be involved in their child's education.
3.5 Diverse school communities
Some groups of children may require authorised absence because of their religious or cultural practices or family's mobility:
- Gypsies and Travellers may travel as part of their tradition, for family connections or work commitments. Further information on supporting inclusive educational approaches for Gypsies and Travellers is available on www.scottishtravellered.net. Their absence is authorised at their 'base school' (school the child attends for most of the year). However, these children may enrol temporarily in other schools as they travel. These schools provide attendance information to be inputted at the 'base school', to ensure completeness of data. In some circumstances where concerns arise, referral to the Children Missing in Education project may be appropriate. Guidance on referral is available. In addition, a range of leaflets on Education in Scotland for Gypsies and Travellers is available from http://www.scottishtravellered.net/resources/educationguide/Ed_20pp_web.pd f.
- children of all faiths may take authorised absence to enable them to participate in religious observance.
- In some cultures, family weddings or funerals are major events which may require children to travel ( e.g. overseas) or participate in extended preparations. If this lasts for more than four weeks the school would normally have the right to remove the pupil from the roll in order not to be penalised in terms of its attendance record. However, in these circumstances, pupils should be considered as 'Extended leave with parental consent', which allows them to remain on the school register ready for their return, but without the school being penalised.
- In all cases, staff will be best placed to judge the school's most appropriate response to requests for absence to be authorised, if they have positive relationships with families and are aware of their local community.
3.6 Family holidays during term time
Following consultation with headteachers, it has been clarified that family holidays should not be recorded as authorised absence, except in exceptional domestic circumstances, where a family needs time together to recover from distress, or where a parent's employment is of a nature where school-holiday leave cannot be accommodated ( e.g. armed services or emergency services). It is for local authorities and schools to judge when these circumstances apply and authorise absence, accordingly.
The categorisation of most term-time holidays as unauthorised absence has been a contentious issue for some families, many of whom are concerned at the higher cost of holidays during school holiday periods. The Scottish Government has no control over the pricing decisions of holiday companies or flight operators. Our main focus is to encourage parents and pupils to recognise the value of learning and the pitfalls of disrupting learning for the pupil, the rest of the class and the teacher. It is for schools and education authorities to judge what sanctions, if any, they may wish to apply to unauthorised absence due to holidays.
3.7 Exclusion from school
Exclusion from school is recorded as a separate category in attendance statistics to enable the Scottish Government and education authorities to monitor the number of days lost to exclusion in schools, and to monitor the extent of provision made for learning for excluded pupils.
Exclusion from school, while a last resort, may be a necessary sanction in order to maintain safety and order for pupils and staff. Exclusion should not generally be used as a sanction for non-attendance.
Exclusion from school disrupts learning, which can be minimised by provision of learning outwith school or at home as advised in Scottish Executive Circular 8/03 on Exclusion from School. It is important to support pupils who have been excluded to maintain their learning while absent and to catch up with their learning on returning to school, to avoid pupils struggling and feeling further disengaged from school, which may lead to more absence to avoid this. This is particularly important in the case of looked after children, who are more likely to be excluded and consequently may have experienced interrupted learning and who may require additional tuition and support to enable them to make up lost ground. The decision to exclude a looked after child should be considered carefully in partnership with multi-agency partners wherever possible. In line with its corporate parent duty, if a looked after pupil is excluded the school should ensure that multi-agency partners are informed to ensure appropriate planning is in place and supports provided both for the period of the exclusion and to facilitate a smooth return to the school in due course.
There are a number of approaches which whole-school communities can adopt which help deal with the aftermath of incidents, or exclusion. For example, schools using restorative approaches can help to resolve conflict or damaged relationships, and can consider the impact on an individual pupil or others affected, following an exclusion. Restorative approaches can involve pupils in resolving conflict with peers or teachers which may otherwise have caused some pupils to stay off school to avoid further trouble.
If a child is excluded permanently and removed from the register, then information on attendance up to the point of exclusion is collected. However, where there is a temporary exclusion and a permanent exclusion follows immediately in succession, the exclusion is recorded as having taken place at the date of the earlier temporary exclusion. Further information on recording and coding of exclusions is contained in chapter 10.
Schools and authorities may wish to note the intention to review the current guidance on school exclusion and develop improved guidance.