Friday, May 27, 2016

Attendance Matters!

Taking time out of the school year for family holidays has become the impassioned educational topic of the moment in the media. National and local press, as well as TV coverage, have all entered the debate following the Platt case that challenged the current legislation.

This has left many in a state of confusion as to what is and isn’t acceptable and who is actually responsible for decision making regarding fixed penalty notices.

Firstly it is important to state that any period of absence from school adversely affects a child’s academic learning and progress. Multiple research papers have proven this statistically.

The Government’s own DfE report, ‘The Link Between Absence and Attainment’ states that 44% of pupils with no absence in Key Stage 4 achieve the English Baccalaureate – the gold standard package of GCSE qualifications that includes English, Maths, Science, Geography or History and a Language –opening doors to their future. But this figure falls by a quarter to just 31.7% for pupils who miss just 14 days of lessons over the two years that pupils study for their GCSEs, which equates to around one week per year, and to 16.4% for those who miss up to 28 days.

I personally recognise the social, emotional and wider educational benefits that a family holiday can provide and that in exceptional circumstances, some families are just unable to take a holiday during the normal school holidays.

When I make a decision to not authorise a holiday request I follow the strict guidelines provided to schools to ensure consistency. These guidelines clearly define exceptional circumstances. They are:

  1. Where it is company/organisational policy for an employee to take leave at a specific time in the year and there is no opportunity for a family holiday in school holidays.  This must be evidenced by production of the policy document of the organisation.
  1. Service personnel returning from/scheduled to embark upon a tour of duty abroad.
I receive a range of many well-argued pleas from weddings to serious family member health issues and much more that I do sympathise with. We also discover situations where parents have blatantly taken holidays and have not been honest with us; others plan their holiday regardless and factor in the fine as part of their holiday budget. I also recognise that for many on low incomes it is the only affordable way to take a holiday at all. I therefore try to be fair and follow the expectations placed on the school by applying policy.

It is important to understand that schools do not apply the fixed penalty notices, nor do we receive the money from paid fines. We process a holiday request as an un-authorised absence and report on to the Local Authority who decide whether to pursue a prosecution.

Since the Platt case, which centres around what is acceptable within law as ‘regular attendance’, we have been advised by Doncaster’s Attendance and Pupil Welfare Services to continue to process holidays as ‘unauthorised’, communicate the details to them with the pupil’s attendance record and they will decide on an individual case by case basis whether to pursue a prosecution. Until we are informed differently, this is what we will do.

For those of you considering booking holidays for next year based on what you consider to be a previous and current good attendance record of your child, be aware you may fall foul of new legislation. The Government have now communicated an intention to rush through a change of law to tighten up the legislation around school holidays. This is almost certain to make it more difficult to take holidays in term time and remove the ability to challenge legally based on a definition of ‘regular attendance.’ The fact that the law has not yet changed will not be a ‘get out clause’ for those booking holidays in the next academic year.

We are very proud of the attendance records of our students and the support parents provide in ensuring good attendance. Our college’s attendance record is above both the Doncaster secondary school and national average and I intend we keep it that way.

I hope I have been able to clarify what is a confusing position.  As further guidance and legislation becomes clear I will keep you informed. However, I would implore parents to consider carefully decisions about holidays and the impact it can have on their child’s academic education.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ofsted Continue to Recognise Our Progress

Sir Thomas Wharton Continues to Take Effective Action Towards
Removal From a Serious Weaknesses Category

On 4 May 2016, Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI), Chris Smith paid his final monitoring visit to Sir Thomas Wharton Community College as a school in ‘Serious Weaknesses’. At each monitoring visit the HMI has to make one judgement – whether leaders and managers are taking effective action towards removal of the serious weaknesses designation. Our next Ofsted visit will be a full inspection when we and he expect us to be removed from an inadequate category.

The HMI’s letter reports positively about the progress we are making and identifies the growing strengths of the college. It also identifies areas for further development including a drive to support a minority of students to improve their own attitudes towards learning.

Raising aspirations and helping students to develop a personal positive mindset is a main thread of our next improvement plan. We will be seeking parental support in this area. By working in partnership we can help all our students to believe that they can be successful and achieve. My theme throughout this year has been ‘nothing is achieved without hard work’. Parents can do little things to help, such as by ensuring their child comes to school each day appropriately equipped with a pen, pencil and ruler and especially for Maths a calculator.

The Governors and I are pleased with the report and we look forward to the full inspection when we can demonstrate the improvements the college has made. Removal from category will be the first step in our journey and ambition to be an outstanding school.

I thank all of you for your continued support. A link to the inspector’s letter can be found on our website and will be available on the Ofsted website shortly.