Agenda item

Attendance & Exclusions



(a)       That the attendance and exclusion data for Flintshire schools and the actions undertaken by officers to support increased engagement and the safety and wellbeing of children and young people be noted; and


(b)       That the Committee were pleased to learn that the attendance figures for Flintshire schools were within the upper quartile in terms of comparative data across Wales.


            Introducing this report, the Chair commented that the figures may seem concerning, but this was not just a Flintshire issue, it was a national one.  Children were finding it difficult to re-engage with education with some not wanting to go back to school.   Schools were working hard to address those problems with creative working and establishing better links with the Education Welfare Service and GwE.


                      In presenting the report the Senior Manager (Inclusion & Progression) provided an overview of the key points for 2021/22, which were based on the data held in Flintshire as the national data from Welsh Government (WG) had been paused during the Covid restrictions.  Attendance in Flintshire remained below pre-pandemic levels which was a concern across all authorities with officers and schools working hard to re-engage with those learners.   Flintshire had a slight rise in attendance levels across primary schools with a drop in secondary schools, because of high levels of anxiety and mental health difficulties.  Illness was still the main criteria for absence and discussions had been held with Head Teachers to ensure they challenged parents appropriately on whether, or not, to accept the reasons given for their child’s absence.  The lack of availability of school nurses was challenging and work was ongoing with health colleagues to ensure that appropriate provision was made in schools. 


                      The Senior Manager referred to point 1.04 of the report which highlighted the creative ways that some secondary schools were working to help pupils to make that first step back into education, with alternative provision provided in schools and in external community sites such as the Community Hub. Schools were not able to do this alone and point 1.05 of the report provided information on the range of services who were working to support them.  Referring to the previous 2019 Estyn Report, the Senior Manager provided an update on the pupil data for attendance and the targeted interventions with those pupils who were at risk of reduced attendance or exclusion. An example was given of the piloted work from years 6 to 7 which had resulted in attendance levels being maintained with an overview of the changes made located at point 1.07 in the report.


The Senior Manager confirmed the Fixed Penalty process had been re-established this year and used to support attendance. 10 Fixed Penalty Notices had been issued with some progressing to court proceedings and been upheld. It was hoped that this would impress upon parents that attendance was important and taken seriously by schools and the local authority. Attendance levels were concerning with mental health and anxiety the biggest challenge moving forward and she provided information on the different services supporting schools which included CAMHS. Trauma Informed Practice was being promoted across schools and services to support an understanding of the challenges faced by young people during the pandemic and the long-lasting impacts of it together with other social factors. Referring to the data received from WG the authority was currently in the upper quartile of attendance nationally at 4th and 5th position for this academic year, which was promising compared with the levels pre-covid.


                      The Senior Manager also referred to resources, explaining that there was a current financial pressure on the Inclusion and Progression Service because of the increased numbers of requests from schools for pupils to receive individualised home tuition plans. Prior to the pandemic the number was around 30 but this had risen to 90 individuals requiring that high level of individualised support. This was a significant pressure, with the service utilising grant funding currently, but this was highlighted as a financial pressure moving forward.


                      In response to a question raised by Councillor Gladys Healey around the number of attendance officers across Flintshire, the Senior Manager confirmed there were 6 Education Welfare Officers and 3 Education Support Officers in the team at present. Councillor Healey also suggested that the Home-Schooling Officer be invited to attend a future meeting of the Committee to give an outline their work and the support they provided to these pupils.


            In response to the question from Councillor Dave Mackie on the collection of data from Head Teachers, the Chief Officer (Education & Youth) outlined the process undertaken around fixed term and permanent exclusions. There were key stages that the school had to follow, which included the reason(s) for that exclusion which were recorded and coded under a range of categories. Following discussions at the Head Teacher Federations, officers and Head Teachers reviewed the policies and intervention strategies and worked to develop new approaches to strengthen procedures and support Head Teachers when managing these difficult situations.


            The Senior Manager (Inclusion & Progression) advised that following discussions with the Secondary Head Federation, meetings had been held with secondary Head Teachers to discuss these challenges, unpick the reasons and situations in each school to enable a better understanding of the challenges across Flintshire schools and then to look at solutions. An outline was given of the Trauma Informed Practice sessions held with Head Teachers on how this could be embedded across the schools and enable best practice to be shared.  A group had been established to understand what was needed to provide that wrap around support to those pupils who had been permanently excluded to enable them to be successful. A similar exercise would be undertaken with the primary sector.


            In response to Councillor Mackie’s comments around potentially fast-tracking processes to enable the best outcome for the child, the Senior Manager explained that robust processes were in place to ensure that there were equal opportunities for every child with a clear process to support professionals in making the best decision for each individual child. The team tried to be as creative and responsive as possible within the requirements of the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) reforms, which was an integral requirement for the authority and all schools. 


            In response to a question from Councillor Jason Shallcross, the Senior Manager advised that the decline in attendance was across all schools and was not related to depravation. This was a national trend across the Country.


            Councillor Carolyn Preece commended the team especially as Flintshire was in the top quartile across Wales which proved that the strategies being put in place were working, especially the Belonging Strategy.


            In response to questions from Councillor Andrew Parkhurst around the figures for exclusions in Table 4 and 5 of the report and the Council Plan, considered at the previous meeting, the Senior Manager suggested that information on the baseline data for 2020-21 and how this varied to the data in the Council Plan,  be circulated following the meeting.


            Councillor Parkhurst also asked if within the exclusion data, there was a breakdown between looked after children and other children. The Senior Manager confirmed that a report on looked after children would be presented to the Committee at its joint meeting with the Social & Health Care Overview & Scrutiny Committee in June. She explained that in the exclusion analysis pupils were flagged if they were looked after children or had additional learning needs and that this information could be collated. She outlined the role of the Manager within the Inclusion Service who had responsibility for looking at data for looked after children to establish if any of those pupils could be targeted to receive additional support. She agreed to collate that information to enable a comparison to be made.


            In response to comments around the recommendations made within the Sir Alasdair McDonald report, the Senior Manager reported that the recommendations had been discussed within the portfolio and with colleagues in Social Services. An Action Plan had been drawn up outlining the requirements to move towards the report recommendations. She referred to the application for grant funding which had been refused because the model was based on a vulnerable learner model rather than a distinct looked after children model.  Discussions had been held with Welsh Government (WG) who had refused to move on this until after the current three-year funding period had expired.  Hopefully after this period there would be additional grant funding available to support the virtual school model as it is expensive and more information would be provided at the joint meeting in June. She agreed with Councillor Parkhurst that every looked after child should have a personal education plan and work was ongoing with colleagues in Social Services to ensure the plans were highly detailed.


            The Chief Officer outlined the frustration around the unsuccessful bid to WG, which she felt had been sustainable. She explained that a Virtual Head Teacher was a significant resource implication and that the pilot funding was only short-term funding. It was identified that this posed a financial risk to the local authority and a cost pressure should that funding cease and WG could not confirm that there would be long term funding as this was a pilot. In the meantime, an Action Plan had been put in place together with a dedicated Senior Manager to progress within the resources that were available.

In response to concerns raised by Councillor Bill Crease around the number of pupils who were not in school, the Senior Manager referred to unauthorised absences and advised that there was a high level of challenge by Head Teachers when the reason provided by the parent or carer was unacceptable. This enabled the school to progress this down the fixed penalty route as it provided the evidence to support this. Whilst the figures were concerning it did show that there was greater challenge, and that Head Teachers were not accepting a response the parent had made where they felt it was not appropriate.


            The Chief Officer said the safeguarding of young people was something the portfolio took seriously, and the Inclusion team were visiting schools very frequently and cross-referencing other information around a particular young person or family and where there were safeguarding concerns they would be followed through. The Senior Manager agreed saying safeguarding was an integral part of the Education Welfare Service and advised that there was also a dedicated officer for children missing in education who worked closely with the community, schools and family engagement officers.


            Councillor Dave Mackie, in referring to the comments previously made by Councillor Preece, suggested that an additional recommendation by added as follows:-


  • That the Committee were pleased to learn that the attendance figures for Flintshire schools were within the upper quartile in terms of comparative data across Wales.


The recommendation, as outlined within the report, together with the additional recommendation suggested by Councillor Mackie was moved by Councillor Carolyn Preece and seconded by Councillor Mackie.




(a)       That the attendance and exclusion data for Flintshire schools and the actions undertaken by officers to support increased engagement and the safety and wellbeing of children and young people be noted; and


(b)       That the Committee were pleased to learn that the attendance figures for Flintshire schools were within the upper quartile in terms of comparative data across Wales.

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