4. Supporting attendance and managing absence
4.1 School policies and procedures
Education authorities should have clear guidance on supporting attendance and managing absence. They should ensure that all schools have in place policies that promote good attendance and outline procedures to support the recording and management of attendance. This should be linked where possible to their relationships and behaviour policy. While there may be scope for local variation in processes and internal systems, consistency of approach helps children and young people and parents to understand expectations. The key messages in this document should be reflected in local policies and procedures.
Involving children and young people and their parents in developing policy encourages a sense of ownership. Regular reviews of policies and procedures with key stakeholders helps to reaffirm expectations and ensure local policies are updated in line with any new national guidance.
Children and young people can learn in a variety of settings, which may be provided by other agencies or providers in partnership with schools. The school’s policies and procedures for supporting attendance and managing absence should be agreed with every service involved in supporting children and young people. A system should be in place to enable centralised recording of attendance and absence for each child or young person, by the school in which the pupil is registered. If this is not collated by the school on a daily basis, then any action or follow up usually taken by the school when there is absence should be taken on by the partner provider.
Where a child or young person is accessing support from another provider and absence continues to be a concern, then this element of the support plan should be reviewed and consideration given to finding another placement that meets their needs.
4.2 Assessment of long term absence
Children and young people may be absent for complex reasons. Schools should undertake a comprehensive assessment involving relevant partners, including the team around the child. This should be linked to existing staged intervention procedures. Schools should take into account the underlying reasons for absence, including family circumstances, school factors or potential mental health factors. For example, some children and young people may display signs of anxiety about attending school due to worries about their family or other factors. Identifying the possible reasons for absence can help the school to determine appropriate supports to put in place.
4.3 Providing for pupils during long term illness
Education authorities are required to make arrangements to support the learning of children or young people with prolonged ill-health (section 14 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980) through outreach teaching or other special provision such as hospital education services. Education authorities may also use technology to support the education of children and young people who are absent through long term illness. Where appropriate provision is in place, schools should record this as attendance. Where it is not in place, this is still categorised as authorised absence. However, the education authority must actively make alternative arrangements to ensure that children or young people can access their entitlement to education.
Where schools maintain contact with children and young people and parents and make arrangements to support learning during absence because of ill health, this can make a positive difference in enabling a child or young person to settle in and make progress on their return to school. Further guidance is available in ‘Guidance on education of children absent from school through ill-health’.
4.4 Children and young people who are home educated
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 an education authority school. Some parents choose to provide home-based education. Home education must be efficient education and suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child or young person. Section 35 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 provides that parents whose children 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 ‘Home Education Guidance’.
4.5 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.
A number of schools continue to have a registration period in the morning. In addition to noting attendance and absence, staff have the opportunity to get to know the children and young people and to become aware of any concerns regarding their health and wellbeing. Persistent lateness, lack of preparedness, distracted and distressed behaviour observed during registration and lessons may be signs of difficulty and may impact on attendance. This information should be shared with other staff as appropriate to enable support to be provided. 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. The Personal and Social Education Review (2019) recommends that tutor periods are reviewed to evaluate their effectiveness and ensure they support the health and wellbeing of children and young people. 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 find ways of supporting the child or young person.
Some secondary schools have opted for attendance monitoring to take place in every lesson. This can provide useful management information, helping schools to monitor and manage absences effectively.
However attendance and absence are recorded, it is important that the information is used to inform immediate follow-up action so that developing patterns of attendance and absence inform strategic intervention where necessary. Delays between class-level recording and further action should be minimised by the efficient transfer of information.
Attendance and absence should be recorded at least per half-day session, but there also needs to be a method of recording the attendance of children and young people who are late. Timing and circumstances behind lateness should always be considered. If a child or young person arrives late, but during the first half of the session, this should be recorded differently to those who arrive 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).
For secondary schools using period-by-period registration, where a child or young person 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).
Schools should monitor persistent late coming and seek to identify any patterns. This should be linked to other relevant information and be used to inform appropriate intervention.
4.6 Immediate action when an absence is noted
If a child or young person 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 absent without parental awareness (see 6.1 Unauthorised absence). This should be recorded as unauthorised absence until an explanation is received by the school.
Parents should be contacted when a child or young person has not arrived in school, using automated call/text systems when available. If attempts to contact the parent are not successful, then emergency contact numbers, such as those of other family members, should be used.
In most circumstances, contact with the parent will result in an explanation for the absence and/or the child or young person returning to school. However, in rare incidents there have been more serious or tragic reasons why children or young people have not registered at school. Schools cannot be complacent about children and young people’s safety. If the school has been unable to establish contact with the parents, action must be taken to satisfy the school and the education authority that the child or young person is safe and well.
If the parent cannot be contacted to confirm the whereabouts of the child or young person, the record of absence should be passed to a member of staff with responsibility for attendance (most often a member of the school’s senior manager or pastoral care within secondary or home-school link worker where available) to consider the information in the light of known attendance issues, support needs or current concerns about the child or young person. This member of staff will be responsible for determining 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 vulnerable children, when the child or young person 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 parent and social worker where relevant. In the case of children or young people who are looked after at home, then the social worker should also be contacted.
Automated call/text systems are often used by education authorities to provide information about school closures, transport disruption or severe weather arrangements. Where schools are closed, children and young people should be marked as attending. Some schools have used these systems to communicate positive messages about attendance to parents about individual children or young people.
4.7 Children or young people missing from education for extended periods
There may be occasions where a child or young person goes missing from education for an extended period of time and the education authority has made extensive unsuccessful attempts to make contact with a family. In these circumstances, school staff should refer to their local child protection guidance.
There are many complex reasons why a family cannot be contacted. Often, staff in schools are aware of individual circumstances and family connections which will enable them to find children or young people quickly. Children or young people may simply have moved schools or have moved homes, and when the new school is contacted, information can be transferred to help the child or young person settle quickly.
Particular sensitivity should be given to children or young people in Gypsy/Traveller families – please see 5.4 diverse school communities for further information.
There are other circumstances which might lead to children or young people being missing from education for an extended period. These might include female genital mutilation, forced marriage and child sexual exploitation, in cases where awareness has been raised of factors that might lead schools to believe this could be a concern for particular children and young people.
There are a range of other reasons why children might be missing from education for an extended period of time, many of which are explored in greater detail in section 6.
4.8 Follow up on absence
If a child or young person’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 issues, then these should be arranged as soon as possible and should not wait for the child or young person to return to school, especially if there is a concern for which additional support may be required.
Parents have a key role to play in promoting and supporting good attendance, and schools should work in partnership with parents to ensure that there is good communication about any issues relating to attendance. If a child or young person returns to school, but a pattern of absence is noted, then it is important that the school continue to work alongside parents to resolve any issues and build positive and trusting relationships between the home and school.
Parents should be kept up to date with levels of attendance through the school’s tracking and monitoring system for attendance and advised when attendance has fallen below the threshold set by the school. Where written communication is used, contact details should be provided of the member of staff who can support the child or young person and parent to improve attendance, as well as where further support may be available. Parents should also be advised of any local parent support initiatives, and of any advocacy service in their area, where a representative ensures the parent’s views are provided and understood. Any communication should take into account the differing needs parents may have, such as those arising from a disability, or communication and language barriers. In the case of children and young people who are looked after, their social worker should be copied into any communication.
Where concern about attendance is ongoing, home visits may help to build relationships between parents and the school. They can also help to consider whether the family has particular needs that they may not have shared with the school, and consider whether support should be offered via local multi-agency planning groups.
4.9 Attendance beyond school leaving age
Young people who choose to stay on at school beyond school leaving age, usually 16 years of age, and their parents, should be strongly encouraged to consider their continued commitment to full attendance. Some schools develop a learning agreement outlining these expectations. There should also be ongoing support and encouragement for young people to ensure their sustained commitment and engagement. Attendance must also be monitored to ensure proper entitlement to the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The EMA is a weekly payment, paid directly to children or 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 place of learning is open to young people. Where the place of learning is closed on days when it would normally be open, for example due to public holidays, extreme bad weather, polling days, in-service days, young people should be treated as having attended for the purpose of the EMA. Similarly, any medical or dental appointments should be recorded for EMA purposes as authorised absence as long as an appointment card or note is provided.
Where there is a shortened week at the start or end of an official school holiday, young people 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 young person has fulfilled 100% attendance when the school was open.
4.10 Staged Intervention
Many issues relating to absence in school can be dealt with quickly and promptly by within school supports and by ensuring that there are positive relationships in place to support children and young people and their families. However, there may be occasions when absence from school becomes a more significant cause for concern. It is important that schools ensure that they have staged intervention processes in place to support attendance. These can include:
- High quality pastoral care systems for early response to absence and signs of difficulty (see section 3.3);
- Effective approaches to assessment and planning for additional support needs to address any barriers to learning that might be impacting on attendance (see section 3.4);
- Creating a Child Support Plan which clearly outlines the supports and structures that require to be in place to support any wellbeing or additional support needs;
- Flexible pathways and consideration of approaches to include and engage pupils more fully in their learning (see Section 3.1 and 3.5);
- Collaboration with a range of agencies through multi-agency planning groups (e.g. Pupil Support Group; School Liaison Group, Team around the child or young person) to ensure effective child and family support;
- Involvement by the education authority in formal referral to local attendance committees, other agencies or consideration of alternative pathways;
- Recourse to measures for compulsory compliance by parents or children or young people, through attendance orders or referral to the Children’s Reporter.