Education leaders in Portsmouth will this week launch a campaign to crack down on some of the highest levels of school absence in the country.
Portsmouth currently sits in the bottom 25 per cent for persistent school absence (attendance below 90 per cent).
Director of children’s services, families and education, Alison Jeffrey, said: ‘Last year 5,000 children, one in every five, had at least one week of unauthorised absence with over 1,000 students missing on average one day every fortnight.’
With Portsmouth performing below average for attendance both nationally and with comparable areas of social deprivation, the council says it is concerned about the detrimental impact on children’s education.
Deputy director of children’s services, Mike Stoneman, said: ‘Figures from the most recent Department for Education report showed that pupils with no absence were 2.2 times more likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C, now the equivalent level 4 to 9, than pupils missing 10 to 15 per cent of lessons.’
‘Attainment standards in Portsmouth are below where they need to be and if we could improve attendance by a few per cent I believe it would make a huge difference to outcomes,’ he added.
Mrs Jeffrey believes crucial to the Miss School Miss Out Campaign is changing a perception within a significant minority of families whereby school absence is culturally acceptable
‘We need to make it clear to families that attendance is important. We need a culture in the city where everyone understands the importance of getting to school,’ explained Mrs Jeffrey.
Cabinet member for education, Councillor Suzy Horton, added: "It's a legal requirement for children to be in education and many parents are doing a great job in getting their children to school on time every day. We don't have a problem with children who are off school for legitimate reasons, such as serious illness, but we want to make parents think again if they believe it's okay for their children to miss a day's education without good reason.’
This culturally ingrained lack of value in education is something which executive headteacher of the Salterns Trust, Steve Labedz, believes can be attributed to the city’s industrial heritage.
‘Historically due to the industrial nature of the city it was generally possible to get a job without education. A survey we carried out at Lord Nelson School showed only one in nine of the children’s fathers were educated post 16,’ explained Mr Labedz.
The local authority has designed the hard hitting campaign to impress on parents the importance of attending school. The key messages will be delivered both through social media and concerted in-school campaigns.
‘There are two key aspects. One focuses on raising aspirations and the second looks at the life implications of poor attendance with the slogan ‘You’d Make them go to School if their Life Depended on it’ –with the inference it does,’ said Mrs Jefferey.
Part of the campaign has seen the piloting of a programme deploying nurses to 10 schools to challenge parents as to whether their children are genuinely ‘not fit for school’.
‘If the pilot is proven to be effective, and we believe it will, then we will roll it out across the city,’ said Mr Stoneman.
Mrs Jeffrey added: ‘We initially need to ensure that levels of absence are at least in line with the national average.’