Persistently absent pupils to be mentored under £5m trial

Pupils who are consistently absent will be matched with mentors as part of a new £5million try to boost school attendance in disadvantaged areas.

It comes after new data showed more than a third of secondary school students were permanently absent from school this year.

A tender A study published by the Department of Education shows ministers are looking for an organization that will recruit and train mentors “to provide targeted one-to-one support to young people and their families” to “overcome barriers to participation”.

The Government announced in its Leveling-up White Paper that it would provide targeted support for issues such as participation in 55 “educational investment areas” across England.

The successful bidder will initially work in one of the areas for a year and supervise between 500 and 1,000 students.

However, the contract will include the option to “scale to multiple territories nationally and support a larger number of students in grades two and three.”

Mentors have “talks” with absent students

Mentors have “talks” with students and families. They can also work with ‘external local agencies’ to improve school attendance.

Many schools and academies already employ attendance directors or staff to mentor students to reduce absentee rates.

The Greenwood Academies Trust recently advertised an ‘Attendance Officer – Learning Mentor’ whilst the Redhill Academy Trust was looking for an academic mentor whose duties would include chasing down low attendance students.

However, a recent analysis by the Education Endowment Foundation found “insufficient evidence” to support mentoring approaches to increase participation.

The Government said the program aims to “improve” the “capacity” for early help and intervention by working with students who are persistently absent or at risk of “severe” absenteeism – meaning half of those sessions is missed.

Data from Education Datalab showed that persistent absenteeism — the proportion of students missing 10 percent or more classes — remained high at 26 percent for elementary school students and 34 percent for secondary school students so far this year.

Permanent absence, 2013 to 2022

These have fallen from the highs of over 50 percent and almost 40 percent in the fall semester of 2020. But they are still far higher than in normal years, when primary permanent absenteeism is usually between 8 and 10 percent, and secondary is about 13 percent.

Heavy absenteeism — students missing more than half of class hours — also remains above 3 percent this school year in secondary schools.

The latest government statistics showed that 12.1 percent of students were persistent absenteeism and 1.1 percent were severe absenteeism in 2020-21. Numbers are lower because Datalab counts Covid isolation while DfE does not.

Datalab found that the increase in consistent absences was driven by increases in authorized absences, with unauthorized absence rates remaining similar to previous years.

Government data shows students missed 328 million face-to-face school days in 2020-21, 270 million because of Covid. This represents a fivefold increase in absenteeism compared to 2018-19, the last normal year before the pandemic.

Ministers have said they are concerned the pandemic has exacerbated prolonged absenteeism. About 12,000 schools are now using a new pilot to track daily attendance.

The Covid disruption is far from over

The latest government attendance data also show the disruption is far from over because of Covid.

Pupils’ Covid-related absences have tripled in just two weeks, while nearly one in ten teachers was off last week.

Statewide, student attendance fell from 92.2 percent to 89.7 percent, reversing a recent trend of rising attendance rates.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the ASCL school leaders union, said the government “must, as a bare minimum, continue to provide free Covid testing for educational establishments after April 1”.

The Guardian reported that free tests for schools would end this month. The government has refused to confirm the plans.

Meanwhile, Datalab also warned this week that underprivileged 11th graders missed school far more than their better-off peers.

Barton said it was an “extremely challenging situation” as students prepared for the exams.

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