Steve Double, Member of Parliament for St Austell and Newquay, has spoken up in Parliament about the impact of school attendance targets on families in Cornwall.
Speaking earlier this week in a debate on children who are not in school, Steve asked the Minister to look at the situation around school attendance targets and how these targets, set by Ofsted and Department for Education policy, are driving what he believes is counterproductive behaviour by some schools.
Speaking in the debate, Steve highlighted that the subject of school absence and levels of school attendance is a particular challenge in Cornwall, where rates of school absence are significantly higher than the national average. Cornwall has seen around an 8.5% level of absence in recent years, when the national average is about 7.4%. Nationally, about 24% of pupils are persistently absent, but in Cornwall that figure is almost 35%.
Steve went on to say that a major factor driving this issue is the attendance targets, arguing that the overbearing, heavy-handed approach that some schools are taking to attendance targets is leaving no flexibility for children who are facing particular challenges, and parents are being threatened with fines for not bringing their children to school.
“This whole drive to reach the attendance target seems to be the only thing that matters, with no flexibility and little allowance being made for the condition or circumstances that a family or child find themselves in, and this is creating tension and breaking down the relationship between the school and the parents at the very time that those parents need support from the school. I ask the Minister whether we can look at that situation.”
“I know that the Government’s official position is that headteachers have discretion and flexibility, but I am afraid that that message has not got through to Ofsted, which I am told still regularly marks down schools that fail to reach the 95% attendance target even when the headteacher can demonstrate sensible reasons why certain children have not been able to attend school.”
Speaking after the debate, Steve said:
“The right of parents to home educate their children if they choose to do so is something I have always supported, and I was pleased to hear the Minister during the debate confirm the Government’s position is that they will always support the right of parents who wish to home educate their children to do so.”
“Many parents choose to home educate their children for very positive reasons, and some of the most mature, articulate, intelligent and well-rounded children I have ever met in my life have been home educated.”
“However, many parents now regrettably find themselves having to home educate their children not because that is what they believe is right for their children but because they feel forced into that situation. They cannot find the right school environment and support for their children, who might have particular challenges such as autism or a mental health condition.”
“I have even had one parent show me letters from their GP saying that their child was suffering with a mental health challenge and would therefore not be able to attend school regularly, but the school still threatened to fine the parent for that child not being in school regularly.”
“This isn’t right, and I was pleased to see the Minister agree with a meeting with me to discuss this situation further, and what the Government can do to better support parents and schools going forward.”