The Referral, Engagement and Assessment Process (REAP) is part of the normal working practice of the Attendance Team. The revised procedures for the prosecution of parents have also been incorporated into Non-attendance Procedures. The Non-attendance Procedures have been amended to incorporate the recent DfES guidance on “Fast Track to Prosecution” and since the implementation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 Parenting Contracts and, Penalty Notices. Provision within the Criminal Justice Act 2000 allows for Parenting Orders to be made by Magistrates’ in appropriate cases of non-school attendance.
Strategy for Non Attendance
The Sunderland LA Strategy For Improving School Attendance will drive the attendance function within Children Service’s.
Encouraging regular attendance and investigating the underlying causes of absenteeism should be set out in a school’s attendance policy, which would clearly set out staff roles and responsibilities for dealing with attendance, which should come before referral to the Attendance Team.
Progression through the stages of the Non-attendance Procedures relies upon an active partnership between schools, the Attendance Team and other LA support services. The following paragraphs underpin the need for agreed criterion for referral to the Attendance Team.
Procedures for non-attendance at school – Guidance
Schools and Attendance Development Officers should establish who would be the contact person(s) in school and arrange regular meetings if this is not already the case.
The Attendance Team can only progress cases of non-attendance where there is unauthorised absence. The head teacher, or another authorised member of the school staff can authorise absences, which includes non-attendance for which a satisfactory explanation (e.g. genuine illness) has been provided.
It is important to note that these procedures should not replace a school’s established procedure for poor attendance. For example, a referral may already have been made to the Attendance Development Officer; or the school may have made contact with a pupil’s parent before stage one. It is expected that the procedures will be applied when strategies employed by the school have been exhausted.
There will need to be an agreement in each school on a Trigger Point for action (e.g. an agreed level of attendance related to the school average and/or 4 broken weeks in any ten). At this stage, the appropriate in-school person should address the attendance pattern of the pupil. Plans for dealing with the problem should be devised with the involvement of parent(s) and any support agencies available to the school, depending on the pupil and their circumstances.
For example: Making contact with parents either in person or by telephone.
Working in partnership with parents and pupils to identify underlying causes of non-attendance:
• Medical needs
• Family difficulties
• Social problems
• Lateness etc.
Adopting in-school policies to identify underlying problems and where appropriate, develop suitable strategies to address them.
• Writing to parents/carers to ensure they are aware of an attendance problem
• Arrange meetings in school with parents/carers to discuss attendance and associated problems
• First day of absence contact
• School/Home contracts to encourage an improvement in attendance/punctuality
• Lateness strategies with the use of IT to improve the monitoring of attendance including a dedicated answer phone line. This is particularly useful in cases of post-registration truancy
• Raising the awareness of the implications of poor school attendance through:
• Parents Evenings
• Induction Meetings
• Home-school agreements
• Rewarding good attendance and punctuality
• Acknowledging improved attendance
• Periodically reminding parents of the school’s procedures for notification of absences
• In school late gates
When successful contact has been made with parent(s) it is often possible to agree strategies, which resolve the attendance pattern without recourse to the Attendance Team. Parent(s) should be encouraged to be involved actively in dealing with attendance problems including the use of parenting contracts. They should be kept informed about the use of report systems, curriculum or timetable changes, pastoral counselling, assessment of learning difficulties or other interventions. Where intervention at school level fails to bring about improvement in attendance, the pupil will fall into the Stage One category, discussed by the Attendance Development Officer and the School Representative at their scheduled meeting and a joint decision taken on how to proceed.
The Stage one response on an individual pupil could be:-
a) Implement normal school procedures, (contact parents, letter home etc.).
b) Where the absences are unauthorised send a concern letter incorporating the penalty notice information. Refer to the Attendance Team if the absences are unauthorised. In order to ensure the health and safety of the Attendance Development Officer concerned, details of any known risk factors associated with the pupil, or the pupil’s family.
c) Where the absences are authorised send a Concern Letter from the Head teacher to the pupil’s parent(s). A copy of the letter should be given to the Attendance Development Officer.
d) No action at the moment and monitor the situation if, for example, the pupil’s absences are justified or because of genuine illness.
(Even absences that have been authorised need to be carefully monitored by the school, especially if illness is continually given as a reason).
Following the Concern Letter, if the pupil’s attendance does not improve immediately or continues to cause concern a referral to Stage Two should be made by the School and Attendance Development Officer. In all but exceptional circumstances referral should be made within two weeks of the Concern Letter.
The school will be responsible for arranging meetings of the Governing Body and presenting reports.
The School Representative will make a referral to the School Governors. The School Governors may interview the parent(s) and the pupil. The school representative will present the governors with the PROFORMA, but a copy will not be sent to the parent(s), other than in exceptional circumstances, (e.g. housebound parent). The school will complete the form and the Attendance Development Officer will submit an appended report in cases that they have been involved in. Whether the governors interview the parent(s) and pupil or not they should consider the following alternatives:-
a) That the matter be referred to Stage Three of the procedures immediately, or
b) That the situation should be monitored for a short period to allow for an improvement in the pupil’s attendance. It may be appropriate for the matter to be referred to the Attendance Development Officer for further action.
Further action may include communicating with the pupil in school, and/or a home visit if appropriate. The purpose of a home visit is to make an assessment of the reasons for the unauthorised absence; inform parent(s) of their legal responsibilities and agree remedial action. This visit will look at supportive strategies to improve school attendance by resolving the issues contributing to the unauthorised absence.
Feedback from home visit will be given to the school within three working days of the visit being completed. In some cases it may be necessary to complete a parenting contract, which will include an agreed attendance target. The plan will be completed in consultation with the pupil, parent(s), an appropriate member of school staff and the Attendance Development Officer.
If the attendance target is not reached within the agreed timescales, the case will automatically be referred to Stage Three. In all but exceptional circumstances referral should be made within two weeks. If the situation is resolved, monitoring will continue for four weeks then the case will be closed and the pupil will revert to school monitoring/review rather than the current caseload of the Attendance Development Officer.
A senior member of the Attendance Team who will work to a script to ensure consistency will conduct an interview of the parent(s) and the pupil. The referral will be made by presenting the interviewer with the updated PROFORMA and copies of the completed REAP reports which will then be returned to the Attendance Development Officer accompanied by brief notes and one of the following recommendations:-
a) If the level of unauthorised absence is sufficient the matter should be referred to Stage Four of the procedures immediately and the case passed to the Enforcement Team, or
b) That the situation should be monitored for a short period to allow for an improvement in the pupil’s attendance (If there is no improvement or there is a subsequent deterioration, the matter should be referred to Stage Four).
A copy of the minutes will be given to the parents and the school representative
If the parent(s) fails to attend the meeting a questionnaire will be sent requiring them to complete and return it by a specific date. The questionnaire will be used to inform the Stage Three decision. If the situation is resolved, monitoring will continue for 8 weeks then the case will be closed and the pupil will revert to school monitoring/review rather than the current caseload of the Attendance Development Officer.
It is not considered appropriate to offer more than two appointments to parents. The Attendance Team will be responsible for arranging the LA interviews and for notifying the school of the outcome.
Following the interview, if the pupil’s attendance does not improve immediately or continues to cause concern the Attendance Development Officer will be responsible for referring the case to the Enforcement Team.
In all but exceptional circumstances referral should be made within two weeks of the Interview recommendation for inclusion in the next available Stage Four meeting.
If there has been no satisfactory improvement a formal letter will be sent to the parent(s) inviting them to attend a PACE interview with a representative of the Enforcement Team. They will be advised that they can seek legal advice and can bring legal representation to the meeting. If appropriate the Attendance Development Officer will complete a Stage Four report (an update of involvement with the family following the Stage Three meeting).
A record will be kept of the meeting and all parties will be required to sign the minutes. Following the meeting the parent(s) will be sent a final warning notice with a copy of the PACE Interview record.
Following the PACE interview the representative from the Enforcement Team will make one of the following decisions:-
a) Consideration to the suitability of the case for placing before the Family Court with regard to an Education Supervision Order.
b) Recommend immediate prosecution of the responsible parent(s); or
c) Recommend that the parent(s) be given a short period (usually no more than four weeks), to improve the pupil’s attendance.
d) Issue a Penalty Notice
If the parent(s) fails to attend the Stage Four meeting a letter will be sent which will include a written PACE Caution and a questionnaire which the parent(s) will be required to complete and return within seven days. The letter will advise the parent(s) that there will be no further involvement from the Attendance Team unless specifically requested.
If the Stage Four recommends immediate prosecution the Enforcement Team will prepare the appropriate documentation within one week. If the recommendation is to monitor and there is no improvement or a deterioration after the Stage Four PACE interview, consideration will be given to issuing a Penalty Notice or initiating legal proceedings against the responsible parent(s).
If the attendance has improved during the agreed monitoring period the Enforcement team will continue to monitor for a further 8 weeks if the attendance is sustained, the case will be closed by the Enforcement Team and returned to the Attendance Development Officer. The pupil will revert to school monitoring/review rather than the current caseload of the school based Attendance Officer. To reactivate the case the school will be required to make a referral to the Attendance Development Officer and the case will re-enter the process at Stage Three.
The Enforcement Team will prepare the papers for legal proceedings against the responsible parent. The Enforcement Team will use the pupil case file provided by the Attendance Development Officer to prepare summonses, witness statement or a penalty notice. The magistrate’s court will be contacted for the next available court date. The Enforcement Team will keep the Attendance Development Officer informed of the current status of the case.
If the pupil’s attendance does not improve the Enforcement Team will return the case to the magistrate’s court under Section 444(1A) of the Education Act 1996 (where, if found guilty, the penalty is greater).
The Enforcement Team will monitor the case for 18 weeks if the attendance improves the case will be returned to the Attendance Development Officer. The pupil will revert to school monitoring/review rather than the current caseload of the school based Attendance Officer. To reactivate the case the school will be required to make a referral to the Attendance Development Officer and the case will re-enter the process at Stage Three.
Criteria for referral to the Attendance Team
1st priority – unauthorised absence:
• after ten consecutive days
• sporadic unauthorised absence of one/two days over a four week period
• emerging patterns of a regular day of unauthorised absence over a four week period i.e. every Tuesday.
2nd priority – lateness
• lateness over a sustained period of four weeks or more or emerging patterns of lateness.
3rd priority – condoned absence
• continual condoned parent(s) absence.