I hope that this new School Attendance Bill will enable children to get the support they need and help them to return to school

People are right to be concerned about the surge in persistent and severe absence. It risks a profound impact on educational attainment and longer-term outcomes. I have tabled a new Bill in Parliament to tackle this issue.

I believe we should be very proud of our nation’s young people. Children in England now rank 11th in the world for Maths and 13th for Reading. Back in 2010, when today’s school-leavers were just starting out in reception, the same league tables placed our children at 27th for Maths and 25th for Reading. There has been phenomenal progress; we must not let this slip.

The reasons for increased levels of pupil absence are often multiple and complex. They include issues such as support for those with special educational needs and disabilities, anxiety, and mental health. We know, for example, that if a child’s SEND needs are unmet, this can lead to them missing out on education.

Changes in attitude towards minor ailments may be another driving force behind school absences. In most cases, children are better off in school, including when they have minor ailments such as coughs or colds.

There may be other changing societal issues. For example, it has been suggested to me that links between increasingly addictive online gaming, poor mental health and missing school may be on the rise.

For the most vulnerable pupils, regular attendance is also an important protective factor. Regular absence from school can expose young people to other harms, such as being drawn into crime or serious violence.

We must find new ways to bring those who are missing out back to school and ensure young people turn up to class.

Every parent has a legal responsibility to make sure their child receives education. If they decide to have their child registered at school, they have a legal duty to ensure their child attends that school regularly.

However, in addressing the issue of school attendance, it’s important we don’t simply lay the blame at the doors on hard-working parents. Most parents want their children to do well, but many need help to support their children to fulfil these aspirations. Securing good attendance requires a holistic approach, bringing together schools, families, the local authority, and other local partners.

Much work has already been undertaken on this issue. In 2022, the Department for Education published new guidance entitled “Working Together to Improve School Attendance”. Running to over sixty pages long, it is extremely detailed, with a great deal of emphasis on early help and multidisciplinary support. It requires every school to have a senior member of the schools’ leadership team acting as an attendance champion. It sets out how schools and other partners should work together.

Last year, the Education Select Committee undertook a detailed inquiry on the issue of attendance. We know that some schools, and some local authorities have better attendance records than others. Witnesses agreed that this guidance needed to be put on a statutory footing and this was a major recommendation of the Committee. Making it mandatory to follow best practice guidance is also supported by the Children’s Commissioner and many other experts, as well as Education minister.

Before Christmas, I presented a Private Members Bill to the House of Commons to make this happen. The Bill will make the guidance statutory so that all schools, trusts, local authorities, and other relevant local partners will need to follow it. It will require every school to publish and follow an attendance policy. Local Authorities will have a general duty to use their services to promote attendance and reduce absence.

I hope that this new School Attendance Bill will get cross-party support from MPs, enable children to get the support they need and help them to return to school.

The Rt Hon Vicky Ford MP

The Rt Hon Vicky Ford is the Conservative MP for Chelmsford, and was elected in 2017.