Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi has promised to end a “zip code lottery” on school absenteeism across the country, which will be a “key component” of his white paper on schools expected later this year.
The Department of Education noted that there was “a radically different approach to sanctions across the country, with some local authorities imposing no fines in 2020-21 while others imposed over 1,500”.
In a consultation published on Tuesday, the DfE has put forward proposals for national attendance rules, including when parents should be fined for their child’s absence.
Fines could be considered after a certain number of unauthorized absences by a student within a certain period of time and in the event of persistent tardiness, the proposals say.
Absence fines have been suspended during the pandemic. Parents will not be fined if their child is absent for coronavirus-related reasons, under the proposals.
Mr Zahawi said: “I want every single child to have the opportunity to fulfill their potential that only time in school with the world-class teachers of this country can bring.”
“And as we move from pandemic to endemic, it makes me even more determined to fight to make sure kids can go to school every day that they can potentially be,” he added.
Mr Zahawi said absenteeism caused by the coronavirus was “inevitable” but that there were other reasons why students were missing school.
“Our new proposals will end the zip code lottery of how attendance is managed in different schools and parts of the country, and ensure that every child and family has the best possible support to attend school as regularly as possible,” added he added.
School Minister Robin Walker said: “We know that Covid has led to some unavoidable absenteeism from school, but that makes it even more important to reduce avoidable absenteeism.”
The consultation suggests that schools should publish an attendance policy and says the “most effective” schools have high expectations for each student’s attendance and analyze attendance data to drive improvements.
It states that “although many schools have a version of a full school attendance policy, there is wide variation in their quality” or how often they are updated, as schools are not required to publish them.
It adds that Mr Zahawi has “signaled his intention” for participation to be a “key component” of the schools’ forthcoming white paper.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The Secretary of Education has made it clear the importance he places on attending school or college. We applaud his commitment to addressing an issue that is having a major impact on children’s life chances.”
However, she added: “While these proposals appear broadly reasonable, the reasons for the continued absence of some children and young people are complex and need to be addressed through a joint government strategy that includes an in-depth examination of issues such as child poverty and mental health and the impact of the pandemic.”
“This is a complex problem that requires concerted strategies, adequate resources and a long-term commitment from the government down below.”
The news follows Tuesday’s estimates by the DfE that 5.1% of all students were out of school due to Covid on January 20, up from 3.9% on January 6 – a record high for this school year with a total of 415,300 students absent.
The consultation runs for five weeks until February 28th.