The report was presented to the Committee by Sarah Tregaskis, Service Manager - Education Services Trading, Development and Delivery and Nici Scott-Moylan - Team Lead Attendance Service.
It was confirmed that the report covered the last academic year up to the 21st July 2022. The data was published by the Department of Education on the 16th March 2023. The Committee noted that since the Covid Pandemic there had been significant disruption to school attendance in Warwickshire, and nationally. It has been identified as a high priority for officers/
It was confirmed that the Attendance Alliance is working with council officers on getting children back into school on a regular basis. The joint approach is focusing on all schools and academies. Members noted that officers are collaborating closely with John Coleman, Assistant Director - Children & Families and Marina Kitchen, Service Manager for Early Help & Targeted Support Services.
It was noted that the overall school absence rate had increased from 4.7% to 8.1% in Warwickshire. Prior to Covid, performance in this area had always been in line with statistical neighbours and nationally. The current review involves looking at why recovery from covid has been slower in Warwickshire in relation to attendance. Members learnt that North Warwickshire has the highest percentage of non-attendance in Warwickshire, and Warwick District has the lowest percentage.
The Chair commented that there has been a lot of concern about the recovery from covid and that the report highlights this.
Councillor Pete Gilbert commented that questions were raised about some of the decisions made by Warwickshire County Council and the Government in relation to the covid response. The data in the report suggests that members were correct in asking the questions at the time. Councillor Gilbert added that should there be a ‘next time,’ lessons must be learnt.
The Chair added that the information in the report suggests that those who are most vulnerable have been the worst affected. Sarah Tregaskis responded that there is still a lot of data that needs to be unpacked, and that the data is coming direct from the schools. Nici Scott-Moylan added that moving forward will involve a lot more collaborative working in order to get support to the most vulnerable as soon as possible. County officers are working to maximise a multi-agency approach to improve outcomes for children.
The Chair questioned how much was known at the time; for example, information on which children weren’t logging in for lessons, or didn’t have IT provisions must have been available. Sarah Tregaskis responded that the data in the report was for the last academic year, when there was still a high number of covid cases. During the primary lockdown, officers were working closely with schools. But it was an unknown period of time and a lot of lessons have been learnt that will be taken forward.
The Committee noted that more up to date information is now available that suggests that there has been an improvement in attendance across Warwickshire. The Department of Education will now provide termly information. The Committee was asked to concentrate on the work that was currently underway, while not loosing sight of the historical data.
Councillor Kam Kaur – Portfolio Holder for Education told the Committee that there had been a recent Head Teacher conference with over 100 attendees. Attainment and attendance had been a key focus and it was confirmed that there is a high level of multi-agency work underway to ensure that work keeps going in the right direction. It was also confirmed that there is a current task and finish group at the Council in relation to attainment.
Councillor Brian Hammersley thanked the officers for the details in the report and in particular the absence codes used. Councillor Hammersley raised concerns about the impact of pupils being honest about the reasons for non-attendance. In addition, the issue of holidays, and parents taking children out of school during the school term because they cannot afford to go away during the holidays. Sarah Tregaskis confirmed that children being taken out of school during term time for holidays is a national issues, especially in view of the current cost of living crisis. Warwickshire County Council works closely with schools and other agencies to address this and there has been an increase in referrals to fine families who do this.
Nici Scott-Moylan responded to the comment in relation to the use of absence codes and confirmed that all schools are legally bound to record morning and afternoon attendance for each pupil. It was confirmed that the coding of the most vulnerable children is a key area of focus. There are many systems in place nowadays for recording attendance. Warwickshire County Council work to offer support and guidance to schools and academies to try and get a everyone on the same page.
Following a question from Councillor Jerry Roodhouse in relation to getting further analysis on the data, it was confirmed that officers are currently reviewing it and that the Department for Education have produced a new tool – Wonde – which will allow officers to access live data. Currently, 82% of schools in Warwickshire have signed up and officers are in contact with those who haven’t to encourage them to do so. There will be a lot of data available via Wonde that officers will be able to review to gain a better understanding of the issues schools are facing.
Concerns were raised by Councillor Jill Simpson-Vince that some schools are still risk adverse as in if you have any germs, please don’t come in. Councillor Simpson-Vince asked if there was any information in relation to this. It was confirmed that with more parents being able to work from home since the pandemic, it was often easier for them to keep children at home if required to, without the need to have to find childcare.
Sarah Tregaskis confirmed that schools received guidance from Public Health in relation to Step A, Norovirus and Chicken Pox and that there was a marked increase in absences after this. It was noted that different academy trusts take different approaches.
To finish, it was confirmed to the Committee that the collaborative approach that officers have in place will be so important moving forward. not just within the council but also with agencies and partners outside the council. It is a different way of working and working together is going to being crucial.