The Government will expand its “attendance hubs” programme in England in a bid to get more children back into school following the pandemic.
Schools could be advised to send text messages to parents where pupils do not attend class as part of the sector-led programme.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said nine new attendance hubs will support up to 600 schools in England by sharing effective practice and practical resources on how to boost attendance.
Methods to keep pupils in school, shared by the hubs, could include using school trips, breakfast clubs and sports clubs to incentivise good attendance.
The DfE is also calling for evidence from schools and councils on how to improve support for children missing education including those neither on a school roll nor being suitably home educated.
Figures released on Thursday showed that more than a fifth (22.3%) of pupils in England have been “persistently absent” so far this academic year – which is where a student misses 10% or more of their possible school sessions, defined as half a day.
An estimated 7.2% of pupils were absent across the week ending May 5, with 3.0% of pupils away from school for unauthorised reasons.
This is one of the highest rates of unauthorised absence since the start of 2023, close to the peak of 3.2% recorded in the week ending March 31.
Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, previously suggested that pupils have been missing school on Fridays since the pandemic because their parents are at home.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “We know that the best place for children to learn is in the classroom, and the vast majority of children are currently in school and learning.
“Though pupil attendance is continuing to recover, the pandemic has still had a real impact on pupil absence in school.
“That is why we’re expanding some of our most important attendance measures today – including the attendance hubs and mentoring programmes, to ensure children have the best chance of receiving a high-quality education.”
The first attendance hub was launched in May 2021. The new hubs are comprised of seven schools and two alternative provision academy trusts.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “School and college leaders tell us that absence levels are significantly higher than they were pre-pandemic.
“Expanding attendance hubs and mentors may be helpful, but this barely scratches the surface of this problem.
“We think that it is driven largely by a rising tide of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, which are exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.
“The government needs to provide solutions that address the root causes of absence. As ever, this is likely to take investment in terms of staffing and specialist mental health support, and the government’s record on providing the necessary resources is sorely lacking.”
James Bowen, assistant general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, added: “The decimation of services like education welfare officers over the last decade means schools no longer have access to the support they need to address this problem head on.
“If the government is serious about solving this issue it will need to match this ambition with the investment needed.”