Education secretary vows to get city kids back into school

Attitudes towards getting children into school have changed since the coronavirus pandemic but cannot be solved simply by increasing fines according to a senior government minister.

More than 4,000 school days were lost at a single Liverpool school during the academic year 2022-23. This was higher than any other primary or secondary school across the whole of Merseyside last year.

In a bid to get kids back into the classroom, the Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed a city primary school will be part of new hubs to tackle persistent absence. The Beacon Church of England School in Everton is the first of two in the North West to help share practical ideas across the area to boost attendance.

Speaking to the LDRS, Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education, explained how the new system would work. She said, “The mentoring hubs will consider what are the barriers to the kid or their family to coming into schools and remove them. That’s a bespoke family-based service focusing on pupils.

“Attendance hubs will focus on school leaders and teachers knowing what’s working elsewhere, can build on it and share that best practice, a network with very practical actions and somebody to pick up the phone to be able to support them.”

According to DfE attendance figures, students at Dixons Croxteth Academy had an unauthorised absence rate of 14% through the autumn and spring terms during school year 2022-23. Lead hub schools will provide a range of support to schools that they can tailor to their pupils and families. The government hopes direct pupil initiatives including breakfast clubs and extracurricular activities, to improving their processes and analysis of attendance data will help.

Trained attendance mentors will also be extended across the pilot programme with Barnardo’s currently in operation in Knowsley, where Ms Keegan herself went to school.

Currently, parents can be fined £60 for taking their children out of school for an unauthorised absence. Asked if the current sanctions are working to encourage parents to get their kids back in the classroom, Mrs Keegan said, “We know some parents’ attitudes have been changed by the pandemic and they don’t think it’s as important, missing a day here or there doesn’t matter, but every moment in school matters.

“We get daily data from 88% of schools now so we know what’s happening on a daily basis and can see where we need to target the support. When we see it, that’s where we put the money, that’s where we put the investment and Liverpool and Knowsley – where I went to school – I’m keen the kids there get the support they need.

“We did consult on putting in place a national framework for the fines system and we will be looking at that but I think it’s more complicated than that. If it was as simple as that, we could have easily solved it, it’s much more complex than that.”

Image: Gillian Keegan MP CC BY 3.0

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