Ian Mearns MP learns about boosting pupil attendance at Heworth Grange School
On Friday 19th May, Gateshead MP Ian Means met with staff and pupils at Heworth Grange School as part of a visit organised by education charity Teach First.
The issue of pupils persistently absent from school is currently the focus of an inquiry by the Education Select Committee, of which Mr Mearns is a member, with pupil absences having risen nationwide since the covid-19 pandemic.
In the North East, the overall absence rate has risen from 5% in 2018/19 to 8.1% in 2021/22, while the percentage of persistently absent children, equivalent to missing half a day of school or more per week, is up from 12.1% in 2018/19 to 24.7% in 2021/22. Poorer children are more likely to be persistently absent, at a time when the attainment gap between rich and poor students is already at its widest point in twenty years.
Staff at Heworth Grange School have been tackling the issue by investing in a full-time social worker to provide support for both pupils and their families, using technology to monitor attendance and identify pupils who need support, and sharing best practice and learning as with fellow school leaders as part of the Teach First North East Schools Forum.
The charity Teach First is highlighting the efforts of staff and pupils at the school in a bid to spread the good work across the country to tackle this problem affecting many communities in poorer areas.
Commenting on the visit, Ian Mearns MP said:
"I always really enjoy visiting schools and meeting pupils and I was delighted to visit Heworth Grange after a challenging period for pupils who missed school during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
I know first hand how important attendance is and how vital a role it plays in giving young people the best possible start in life. It is clear there is a link between attainment and persistent absence. There is no doubt this contributes towards the growing attainment gap between those who are the most and least privileged.
I'm delighted to see the important work undertaken by staff at Heworth Grange who are investing their time and effort into tackling persistent absenteeism."
Jason Holt, headteacher of Heworth Grange School said:
“Attendance has posed a significant challenge to schools nationally since 2019 and remains a key priority for school leaders, as it directly links to the grades pupils get and their life-chances.
“Staff and leaders at Heworth Grange, with support from local mental health services and the Academy Trust, have put in place practices to improve attendance. These include taking part in the Gateshead Social Workers in Schools Project, placing a full-time social worker in the school to provide support for both our students and their families, as well as using digital systems that allow us to spot trends and identify young people who need the most support with their attendance.
“Whilst there is always work to be done, our approach is yielding positive results and attendance is improving steadily, despite the national picture.”
Commenting on the issue of persistent pupil absences, Teach First CEO Russell Hobby said:
“The rise in pupil absences since the pandemic should worry us all. School closures triggered a disengagement with school for some and increased mental health concerns for others, with pupils from the poorest backgrounds often struggling most.
“Teachers need support to reengage and excite young people with school and rebuild those bonds. The government must weight funding towards schools serving disadvantaged communities so they can implement targeted support to pupils most in need.
“In the long-term it is vital we understand the reasons behind this increase in absences, so we can prevent a generation of children from suffering lasting damage to their education.”
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About Teach First
Teach First is an education charity which is fighting to make our education system work for every child. Backing the schools facing the toughest challenges, the charity finds and trains teachers, develops their leadership teams and plugs them into networks of diverse expertise and opportunities to create real change.
The charity has now placed over 15,000 teachers and leaders, has over 130 head teachers in its Training Programme alumni and has supported over two million pupils.
Those on the Training Programme commit to a minimum of two years at their partner school - gaining a fully funded postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) and earning a salary whilst they train. More than half then stay on for a third year, where they have the option to top up their qualification to a master’s. Over 60% of all the teachers who’ve completed training since 2003 are currently teaching.
As well as recruiting new teachers into the profession, the charity provides a range of support for schools, including programmes to help develop teachers at every stage of their career.
Teach First currently operates in all regions across England: London, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire the Humber, North West, North East, South East, South Coast, South West and the East of England.