Campaign launched to boost Hastings and St Leonards school attendance

A campaign was launched today (Friday, June 21) aimed at boosting attendance at schools across Hastings and St Leonards.

Teachers, councillors and other education professionals met to launch the charter SUS-190621-162720001
Teachers, councillors and other education professionals met to launch the charter SUS-190621-162720001

Schools in the borough created a town-wide attendance charter as part of a £450,000 range of initiatives to support young people and children in getting to school.

The scheme also aims to help families with improved access to support services for other issues, such as health or housing, which may be acting as a barrier to attendance.

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By signing the charter, school and college leaders and governors agreed to work together to implement the town’s high expectations for attendance, backed up with support from East Sussex County Council.

The charter includes schools closing their register 30 minutes after the start of the school day, contacting parents or carers on the first day of absence, refusing to authorise holidays in term time unless for a good reason, such as a funeral and for schools to liaise where children from the same or linked families attend so there is a shared approach where attendance is a concern.

Damian Hinds, Education Secretary, said: “High quality education and pastoral care make a real difference to a child’s ability to make the most of their opportunities, but of course this only works if a child is present at school.

“No child should be absent from school without good reason and this town-wide approach in Hastings is a great initiative to make sure young people are in school with access to a good education.”

The charter also sets out a commitment to engaging parents, carers and the community in tackling pupils who are persistently absent, as well as inspiring children to attend school through an engaging curriculum.

As part of the initiative, the Department for Education (DfE) is also funding 14 projects submitted by schools to boost attendance, through the Hastings Opportunity Area (HOA).

Key workers will support families who struggle to get their children to school at All Saints and Dudley, Baird and Ore Village Primary Academy.

They will work with the Education Futures Trust (EFT) to make sure families can overcome barriers to attendance by accessing services around any other issues they may be facing, such as housing, parenting or health.

The University of Brighton is using the support of an Education Welfare Officer to train teachers and other school staff in strategies, in early identification of pupils at risk of low attendance and supporting families in seven local primary schools and two secondary schools.

School minibuses will help parents and carers get their children to school and to breakfast clubs at Christchurch Primary Academy and Ark Castledown and after school transport at Torfield and Saxon Mount means pupils can take part in enrichment activities, funded by HOA.

Richard Meddings, chairman of HOA’s independent partnership board, said: “Attending school regularly is vital for children to fulfil their potential.

“We’re excited that schools, children’s services and families across Hastings are working together to promote good attendance for all children and that Hastings Opportunity Area funding will help provide that extra support for families who need it.”

The HOA said it is committed to improving attendance in the town over the next two years. The ambition is to tackle the challenge of attendance at primary by reducing the number of persistent absentees from 850 to 539 pupils, a reduction of 311 pupils, based on 2018 data, and at secondary reducing from 611 to 501 pupils, a reduction of 110 pupils.

Carly Welch, head of The Baird Primary Academy, said: “We are delighted to be part of a Hastings-wide initiative to promote positive attendance.

“At The Baird, we have been working relentlessly with both parents and pupils to improve our pupils’ attendance and ensure every child is in school every day, ready for the next part of their learning.

“Attending school every day has a direct result on pupils’ attainment and progress in school and it is therefore vitally important we foster positive relationships with parents and pupils to enable our children to succeed and achieve their potential.

“As a result of the work we are completing, we are already seeing promising results. We want to continue to build on our initial work, and to provide the further support and help some of our families need.

“The Hastings-wide charter will enable all schools and professionals to work together to further promote positive outcomes for pupils. It demonstrates the commitment from all Hastings headteachers to promote key messages and a consistent approach to attendance across the town.

“For this reason, we are delighted to sign the charter and to be able, through the HOA funding, to appoint a key worker to support attendance at the school. This member of our staff team will work directly with families to identify and address barriers to positive school attendance.”

Hilary Morawska, principal of Hastings Academy, said: “At Hastings Academy, we are committed to ensuring all of our pupils attend school regularly and we are working hard with families and young people to achieve this.

“We are aware some of our families and young people have greater barriers than others to regular school attendance. And that is why, we are committed to working in partnership with other local schools and local agencies, to really drive home significant improvements so that all of our pupils can access learning and make the progress that they need to succeed in life.”

Daniel Ball, from Christchurch Primary Academy, said: “This isn’t rocket science. If children are in school then teachers can teach them.

“For example, a Year 1 child who had really poor attendance was scoring under 10 in phonic screening practices. Being picked up by the minibus has resulted in significantly better attendance and a phonic screening score in the high 30s. That in itself will make a massive difference to that child’s educational pathway in the future.

“This attendance charter highlights the vital importance of children’s school attendance. Through providing a clear approach, unambiguous systems for schools and the county council to follow and the attendance expectations for all members of the community to see, this unified approach is one we can all get behind.

“Attendance is the foundation upon which children’s future successes are built.”

Katharine Hurd, head of All Saints Primary Academy, said: “Attendance is academically important as time out of the classroom leads to gaps in learning.

“I explain it to the children as each lesson or part of a lesson providing them with a Lego brick which they collect to help them build a model. If they miss a lesson they can’t always build the model properly because a vital part may be missing.

“This example works as just like learning if you miss some elements or concepts then it is difficult to properly understand something. If they miss lots of time then their model would have lots of gaps and parts missing and certainly wouldn’t be as strong.

“Attendance is also socially important. Missing the start of lessons or whole days leaves pupils feeling at a disadvantage. They often lack confidence and find getting into learning and friendships harder because not being in leaves the child feeling on the outside of the environment.

“Our additional support from our HOA funded keyworker is really helping us to build positive relationships with our families that may need extra support. Across All Saints and Dudley Infants we are already seeing some really positive progress with increasing regular attendance for those families who struggle.”