photo by element5 digitalWhat does the Schools Bill mean for those working in school attendance?  The objective of the policy is to reduce pupil absence rates by improving the consistency of attendance support and management provided by schools, trusts and governing bodies and local authorities. The bill aims to create clear expectations for schools, trusts and governing bodies, and local authorities on what attendance support they should be providing, when they should consider issuing fixed penalty notices, and when academies should grant leaves of absence. Legislation is needed to set a consistent standard of attendance support for pupils and parents, regardless of where in the country they live, and to tackle entrenched, long-standing patterns of absence. The legislation is intended to take effect from 1 September 2023 for the start of the new academic year. 

This measure has four parts: 

1. Schools attendance: general duties on local authorities – The government proposes to amend the Education Act 1996, requiring local authorities to use their existing powers to promoting regular attendance, reducing absence and to have regard to new attendance guidance and expectations issued by the DfE. This will set clear standards for local authority attendance services and help improve the consistency of attendance support across the country.

2. School attendance policies – The government proposes to amend the Education Act 1996 to require the proprietor of every school in England to publish and implement an attendance policy to promote regular attendance. The measure outlines the components an attendance policy must include, for example the attendance procedures which must be followed and the responsibilities of particular staff members. This will help set clear attendance expectations for every pupil and parent in England. 

3. Penalty notices: regulations – The government intends to allow the Secretary of State to set, through regulations at a national level, the circumstances in which the issuing of fixed penalty notices for absence must be considered. Currently this is set at a local authority level meaning there is considerable variation in their usage which can result in unfairness for parents depending on where in the country they live. Provision would also be made for the coordination of arrangements between local authorities, neighbouring local authorities, the police and other authorised officers. This would be achieved through amending the Education Act 1996 and the Education and Inspections Act 2006, to amend the existing power for the Secretary of State to make regulations on the issuing of fixed penalty notices for absence. 

4: Academies: regulations as to granting leave of absence – The government proposes to amend section 551 of the Education Act 1996 to extend the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations in respect of granting leaves of absence to also cover all types of schools that are academies. This means the regulations on the granting of leaves of absence (currently covered in The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006) can be amended so that they also apply to Academies. 

As a result of this will additional funding be available to Schools and Local Authorities?

The DfE state that the increased expectations for schools and local authorities can be delivered within existing budgets, but they recognise that delivery depends on current levels of the Dedicated Schools Grant and as more schools join or make plans to join strong multi-academy trusts, funding will need to be secured on a more sustainable basis. In line with the move to support first and only using legal intervention where support does not work or is not engaged with, the Secretary of State intends to remove the current restriction on local authorities’ use of monies collected through penalty notices. This will mean rather than being restricted to using the money for the issuing, enforcing and prosecuting of penalty notices, the money can be used for preventing absence by removing the barriers to attendance. The DfE also intends to consult in summer 2022 on which local authority services should be funded through the Central Schools Services Block in future. They also state they will further consider how local authority attendance services are funded longer term as part of that consultation.