Navigating the Complex Landscape of School Attendance and SEND

absenteeism attendance attendance action alliance ebsa emotional based school avoidance school refusal send Oct 03, 2023
Tough landscape representing school attendance and SEND

In the realm of educational policy and practice, the challenges surrounding school attendance, particularly among children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), have garnered significant attention. The July meeting of the Attendance Action Alliance (AAA) explored the multifaceted issues surrounding attendance difficulties. The discourse illuminated the complexities and need to understand this area further.

It was highlighted that data shows that children with SEND (and particularly Social Emotional and Mental Health need) tend to have lower attendance than their peers. Molly Mayer, Attendance Division, Department for Education presented Key findings which included:

  • Pupils with SEN support and EHCPs have higher absence rates compared to pupil with no identified SEN and a higher proportion of pupils with SEN were persistently and severely absent, both pre and post COVD.
  • Absence varies widely by type of need but, across all SEN types, absence is higher in secondary school
  • Across all SEN types of absence is driven by authorised absence – illness.
  • Overall, unauthorised absence is higher in special schools compared to all schools, but this is driven by high unauthorised absence among pupils in 3 groups (inc. those with SEMH). Among most types of need, unauthorised absence is lower in special schools.
  • Absence is higher among girls with SEN than boys in secondary schools but a higher number of boys have SEN.


Bridging Policy and Practice to Support Children with SEND

The discussions from the Attendance Action Alliance meeting underscored a critical reality: the path to enhancing school attendance, especially among children with SEND, is paved with challenges and demands a holistic, multi-systemic approach. Tina Emery, Co-Chair National Network of Parent Carer, poignant highlight of the often-overlooked struggles of girls with SEND, Claire Coutinho, Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing acknowledgment of the lingering impacts of COVID anxiety, and Leora Cruddas’s, Chief Executive, Confederation of School Trusts, emphasis on the pivotal role of child wellbeing, spotlighting the multifaceted nature of school attendance difficulties.

As we navigate through the policies, strategies, and initiatives discussed, the essence of our efforts must remain rooted in genuine collaboration, empathy, and a commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of their challenges, is supported, valued, and empowered in their educational journey. The synthesis of insights, expertise, and compassionate action from all stakeholders is paramount to translating the discussions and intentions into tangible, positive outcomes for our children and young people.


A Compassionate Approach: Understanding and Supporting School Attendance

The government’s fervent drive towards ‘raising attendance’ is clear. However, the path to achieving this goal is intricately woven with numerous challenges that a significant proportion of school children navigate daily. The work of groups like 'Not Fine in School' illuminates the often-overlooked struggles that many pupils, particularly those experiencing Emotional and Behavioural School Avoidance (EBSA) encounter. Their advocacy underscores a distressing reality: for a considerable number of pupils, the hurdles to regular school attendance are not merely physical but are emotionally and psychologically rooted.

The necessity, therefore, to integrate targeted, evidence-based training, such as EBSA Horizons, into our educational framework and the Government’s ‘attendance initiative’ becomes paramount. Such training, which equips schools and professionals with the requisite skills, knowledge, and strategies to support children experiencing difficulties attending school, is pivotal in ensuring that our drive towards raising education is inclusive, empathetic, and holistic. It is not merely about elevating academic standards but about fostering an educational environment that recognises, understands, and adeptly navigates the myriad challenges that our children face.

The increasing discussions at high levels regarding attendance difficulties indeed mark a pivotal step towards acknowledging and addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by a significant cohort of school children and young people. The spotlight on these issues, is undeniably crucial in paving the way towards more supportive educational environments. However, it is imperative that these discussions and subsequent strategies transcend the numerical goal of merely 'raising attendance' and delve deeper into the nuanced needs and struggles of these children and young people.

The essence of addressing attendance difficulties should not be anchored solely in elevating attendance figures. A myopic focus on this singular metric risks overshadowing the underlying emotional and psychological challenges that many pupils navigate. The priority, especially for children and young people having persistent and severe absenteeism from school should pivot towards fostering their overall wellbeing.

The focus should inherently be on creating educational environments where every child feels seen, heard, and supported, irrespective of their attendance figures. It is about ensuring that the strategies employed are not merely reactive, addressing the symptoms (i.e., low attendance), but are proactive, addressing the root causes of attendance difficulties and fostering an environment that supports the overall wellbeing of every pupil.

In this light, the dialogue and strategies surrounding attendance difficulties must be enveloped in a broader narrative of wellbeing. It is about ensuring that our educational environments are not merely spaces of academic pursuit but are nurturing spaces where every child, regardless of their struggles and challenges, is empowered to thrive, both academically and emotionally. This necessitates a shift towards a more inclusive, empathetic, and wellbeing-focused approach, ensuring that our children are not merely attending but are genuinely thriving in our educational environments.


Reflective Questions for Practice

What impact could a focus on practical, on-the-ground strategies and resources have on the overall wellbeing and school engagement among children and young people experiencing attendance difficulties?

How can principles and practices that prioritise emotional and psychological wellbeing be integrated into school to ensure a balanced and empathetic approach to managing school attendance?

How might a focus on creating an inclusive, supportive, and empathetic educational environment align with and enhance government efforts towards supporting children and young people?


EBSA Horizons School Staff Training

EBSA Horizons School Training is an equally comprehensive CPD course for School Staff, which develops understanding and skills (alongside a lot of resources) to support children and young people experiencing difficulties attending school. This course has been updated for 2023 with a new chapter -

Chapter 6:  The Systemic Change Model of EBSA

Find out more about EBSA Horizons School Training here and register your interest to receive 3 FREE resources from this course.


EBSA Horizons Educational Psychologist CPD

EBSA Horizons is comprehensive CPD course for EPs, which develops understanding and skills (alongside a lot of resources) to support children and young people experiencing difficulties attending school. This course has been recently updated for 2023 with two new chapters -

Chapter 6:  Supporting Autistic CYP Experiencing EBSA

Chapter 7:  Entrenched EBSA

Find out more about EBSA Horizons here and register your interest to receive 3 FREE resources from this course.


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