A Focus on Attendance

A Focus on Attendance

Recent training for inspectors focused again on attendance. This was no surprise, with Ofsted releasing ‘An update on attendance with Ofsted and the DfE’ on their YouTube channel back in the Autumn. It’s worth a watch if you missed it, giving clarity about their expectations and how they will evaluate how schools are doing everything they can to improve attendance, but recognising that context is key. And that schools can’t do everything! (Who knew?)


Context really is key, and it could be worth ensuring clarity amongst leaders and governors about what can affect attendance in your setting, what the barriers are and what the school’s success stories have been.

Ofsted also expects schools to provide an “up-to-date attendance analysis for all groups of pupils” as part of the information that needs to be available from 8 a.m. on the day of inspection. It would be useful to ensure that this can easily be collated, especially if key personnel are not in school when the call comes.

I have worked with many schools where the attendance headline figure might appear to flatline at or around national or a bit below over a period of time. But what this does not show is the considerable amount of work that goes into maintaining this. If this work did not occur, overall attendance would plummet in some cases. All against the backdrop of the ‘breaking of the social contract between schools and parents’ in many cases identified in the last of Amanda Spielman’s annual reports.

It is really important that schools can articulate their specific context concisely and realistically. This is so important for inspectors to understand curriculum choices, provision, progress and all aspects of the school’s work. Attendance is no different.

As with everything in schools, because everyone is so busy, effective work is sometimes not reflected on and remembered because we are always moving on to the next issue and development. Things become part of ‘just what we do here’. Ensuring what has worked well is identified as important for the school itself and in providing evidence to inspectors.

A simple ‘Attendance issue, Action taken, Resulting impact’ grid can be really useful to summarise this.

It can also be useful to monitor the systems around attendance and safeguarding. For example, try visiting the school office ten or fifteen minutes after the start of the school day. Has the registration information been collected and collated promptly? Does the school know exactly who is absent, and are procedures being followed for those who are absent?

I did this with a headteacher in one of the schools where I am the external adviser. Twenty minutes after the school day started this had not happened because office staff had been swamped by parents with queries about a newsletter and who were dropping off donations for an event, as well as the usual parental enquires. This was even more hectic because of the arrival of a group of musicians for a performance for the pupils who all needed to sign in. The DHT, who normally checks for vulnerable pupils’ attendance, was organising the hall for the performance and had been delayed somewhere else in the school. Because of all of this, the registration information had not yet been checked.

Obviously this was not a typical day, but it did show where the cracks can appear. As a result, days when the office is likely to be extra busy were identified in advance and a TA co-opted from assembly for fifteen minutes on those days. I know this is not a luxury every school can afford, but evaluating the systems is the important message.

I will be explaining more about attendance and inspection at the next Inspection Briefings for School Leaders and in more detail as part of the three-day Headteacher Inspection Training.

See the Attendance Champion Toolkit.  There is also a new Focus Download which is really useful to show the analysis of attendance and groups required by inspectors, as well as summarising the impact of the school’s work. Inspection Attendance Summary (Download)

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For more information about courses Tim is running click here.

To book Tim or one of our consultants to work with your school, email us consultancy@focus-education.co.uk

You can find us on X (Twitter) @focuseducation1 or get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818.


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