Measures aimed at preventing children from missing school clear the Commons

Measures aimed at preventing children from missing school have cleared the Commons and moved a step closer to becoming law.

The School Attendance (Duties of Local Authorities and Proprietors of Schools) Bill will require local councils in England to promote regular attendance and reduce absences at schools in their area.

It will also place current attendance guidance on a statutory footing, requiring local authorities to work closely with schools and other public services to prevent pupils from persistently missing school.

Conservative former minister Vicky Ford, who sponsored the Bill, said even a “tiny” drop in attendance can have long lasting consequences for children.

She told the Commons: “We know that for most children the best place is to be in school, where they’re surrounded by the support of their friends and their teachers.

“We know children will invariably fall behind if they miss time in the classroom, no matter how much teachers and others try to help them catch up.

“And we know that going to school is important, not just for our children’s education but also for their wellbeing, their wider development and their mental health.

“And sadly we know that for many children, the pandemic brought loneliness, loss of communication, loss of face-to-face time with their friends, loss of laughter, and for some children those losses have had a lasting impact.

“This Bill will not be a magic wand, it won’t undo all the harms caused by Covid, but it is a very firm step in a happier and a more positive direction.”

Ms Ford (Chelmsford) also called for staggered term times to solve the issue of children going on holiday during term time.

She said: “I’d like to see schools use the powers they already have to vary their term times a bit, and that might give more families the opportunity to avoid peak season options.”

Education minister Luke Hall said: “The Government supports this Bill because we want to give parents clarity, and level up standards across all parts of England.”

He added: “We absolutely sympathise with families who want to avoid more expensive periods, but we are clear that pupils should not miss school for term-time holidays.

“They cause unnecessary disruption to learning and make it harder for teachers to plan lessons and cover the curriculum.”

The Bill received an unopposed third reading on Friday and will now undergo further scrutiny at the House of Lords.

Joe Lane, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said the charity “strongly welcomes” the Bill.

He added: “We know that poor attendance is often the result of the challenges children and families face outside of school – mental health problems, lack of support for disabilities, or problems with housing.

“Ultimately, there is a huge shortage of early help services for children and families. Greater access to these lifeline services, which include parenting support, will start to improve school attendance and prevent an array of problems from escalating.

“In this election year, all political parties should commit to making it a legal requirement for local councils to provide early help services backed by significant funding.”

Elsewhere in the Commons, the Secure 16 to 19 Academies Bill also received an unopposed third reading.

The Bill, tabled by Conservative MP Caroline Johnson (Sleaford and North Hykeham), aims to reduce the minimum notice period for mutual no-fault termination of a secure schools funding agreement from seven to two years.

Labour’s shadow minister Seema Malhotra criticised the delays in opening secure schools, adding: “The public accounts committee report in 2022 said that the first secure school had not yet opened more than six years after it was recommended, and costs had indeed spiralled.”