Janice Allen is the Headteacher at Falinge Park High School, a mixed community secondary school in Rochdale. Falinge Park has worked closely with a number of local charities to support the school's drive to improve attendance.
Understanding the root cause of persistent absence
The pandemic has highlighted the important link between school attendance and pupils' education and progress. As a headteacher, I can see the wide range of issues that affect children's regular attendance. Often these are complex issues affecting the whole family, with some of the most serious being financial concerns, homelessness or housing insecurity, and in some instances alcohol and substance abuse.
As a school, we recognise that we need to take action to support families in these situations but we also recognise that we cannot do this alone, and that we do not have the expertise to tackle these issues ourselves. Through our partnership with our local Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) partnership, we have identified a number of local charities who were best suited to helping us tackle some of these root causes to persistent absence.
Keeping the community at the heart of the school
By building strong relationships with charities locally, we have gained additional support for our work to tackle some of the root causes of absence. We are:
- Working with the Youth Service and Early Break, a substance misuse charity, to address youth violence and antisocial behaviour within the community by supporting pupils to engage in constructive opportunities outside of school such as volunteering or sports. The charity also conducts walks outside of school hours in the local area to directly deal with anti-social behaviour issues.
- Supporting our pupils to help them recognise domestic and gender-based violence with organisations like Rochdale's Women's Welfare. They worked with our pupils so that they would know where to get the right support if this is something they are experiencing themselves or if they know a friend or someone else who is.
- Raising awareness of drug misuse and supporting those affected through an organisation called Early Break, who specialise in working with young people on these issues. Early Break also works with pupils during their transition into secondary school and with those who have parents who are incarcerated.
- Working with Manchester Central Foodbank to provide a welfare officer to work with families once a week. This work includes practical support like helping the family to secure their universal credit allowance, completing Personal Independence Payments, and even supporting the search for housing.
- Supporting new migrant families with language barriers by building a parent partnership with support from our Community Warehouse led by Action Together (umbrella VCSE) where families can access food, clothing, and language support.
We are still at the start of the journey and I know we have not yet fully realised the potential of these partnerships. I hope, however, that by working with the local community we can better support our children and families.
Creating a structure that enables a community focused approach
To make sure that this work is embedded in the school, we also support our staff to have the capacity to volunteer and participate in community work. By providing space for staff to undertake this work, we can ensure we are giving back to the community and our children can see the important link between school, home and their local area. There is still a long way to go yet on our attendance journey but this way of working could prove effective in the long run. If we harness the power of our communities and place-based organisations then we can, I believe, address some of the intractable issues that we face in schools.
Find guidance and resources to support attendance in your school
For general information and guidance on how schools, trusts and local authorities can maintain high levels of school attendance, you can read our guidance on school attendance, as well as our attendance best practice framework.