Pupil Attendance in Schools

SG Newsletter Exclusive: The Pupil Attendance Basics For DSLs

Discover the type of questions and steps Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) should be taking to help improve pupil attendance.

With around 1 in every 5 pupils at risk of falling below the proposed new absence threshold (FFT Education Data Lab), attendance is a critical concern for schools.

At a very foundational level, when a child attends their educational setting, we know that they are alive and safe.

Attendance is a critical factor for any DSL to consider when considering the lived experience for a child, and to provide preventative support to the children and their family.

Low pupil attendance can be an indication of some serious forms of familial abuse (e.g. FGM, neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse etc.) and extra-familial abuse (e.g. CCE, CSE, gang involvement, radicalisation etc.). Therefore, regular meetings with attendance officers are essential.

How to Address Pupil Attendance in Schools as a DSL


Identifying patterns is a vital activity for any attendance lead and/or DSL to complete. This is because attendance may indicate some potential issues outside of school. For example:

  • Is the child often off school on a Monday after they have spent the weekend at their Dad’s house?
  • Are they always off on PE days when they would have to change in front of others?
  • Has low attendance increased since the child has developed new friendships?

Our professional curiosity always needs to seek the answer to these questions – why is this pattern evident and does it indicate a safeguarding concern?

Insights into Home Life – Safe and Well Visits

Safe and well checks are usually conducted when there has not been a reason (or a valid reason) given for a pupil not attending school. They are not only opportunities to ensure that our pupils are ok, but we also gain an insight into the environment that they are growing up in.

  • Are there younger/older siblings which we were previously unaware of?
  • Are there living conditions which concern us – damp, fleas etc?
  • Do they have a bed and is there enough space for the family? Are they living in an area which has known gang activity?

Getting answers to these types of questions can help us not only develop our relationships with our families but also ascertain what support our early help offer can provide – e.g. signposting to housing support etc.

Parental Engagement

Safe and well checks alongside early help support can provide opportunities for parents and carers to have more open and honest conversations with school staff. These relationships are of the utmost importance as it is through a collaborative approach that we are most likely to be able to provide the support required for the child to remain safe.

During these conversations, we may ask some useful questions which may assist with our understanding of the underlying issues causing the low attendance, such as:

  • How do you think your child feels about school? (Perhaps the child has school anxiety, a condition which has increased since Covid-19.)
  • Is the child spending a substantial amount of time with new friendship groups? (Perhaps contextual safeguarding support may be required.)
  • Has your relationship with your child changed at all? (Perhaps parental support and guidance is needed.)
  • Are there any particular health issues we need to be aware of, and are they impacting the pupil’s attendance? (Medical circumstances – either of the child or the adult – may be preventing school attendance.)

Early Help – Offering Support to Prevent Risks

When thinking about pupil attendance, low levels can indicate that families need some early support intervention – so what kind of early help can we provide? It may be that the parent is struggling with their child’s behaviour, or that their child is becoming a school refuser. In these cases, we would need to work very closely with the family to support that child to come back to school, using our pastoral team and resources.

However, we may also need to research additional children’s mental health support from external providers, particularly if our in-school support has been ineffective.

In other instances, the parent may be struggling with their own mental health and find it difficult to get out of bed themselves – perhaps they are suffering from post-natal depression or substance misuse. In these instances, it is critical that we contact our early help locality hubs so that we can signpost our parents effectively.

Sometimes our early help for a family can be a challenging conversation. They may not see school as being important and therefore they don’t prioritise school in their family, so in this case making the parents aware of the amount of time missed, the benefits of school (social, as well as academic attainment) and holding parents to account is also critical.

Make sure that parents and carers are aware of the potential penalties, and the fact that the amounts fined have recently been increased.

A Framework for Encouraging Better Pupil Attendance

As a DSL, use the following framework taken from the Department for Education’s 2024 publication, Working Together To Improve School Attendance.

  • Expect – create a school culture where attendance is prioritised.
  • Monitor – use attendance data to identify any existing patterns.
  • Listen and understand – discuss any issues with the child and family and agree on what can be done.
  • Facilitate support – remove any barriers (where possible) in or out of school, and develop a plan for success.
  • Formalise support – If this isn’t working, clarify potential consequences and penalties. You may possibly develop an ‘attendance contract’.
  • Enforce – follow the National Framework and issue any necessary statutory interventions, including penalties or prosecution.

Find More Support for DSLs

If this short blog has resonated with you, our experienced Safeguarding Advisers can support you in developing processes that will keep everyone safe, including our in-school Safeguarding Audits.

Don’t forget to subscribe to our Safeguarding Subscription Service where you will find dozens of webinars and resources on all aspects of safeguarding that you can share with staff within your setting as CPD.

About the Author

Emma has over 20 years of experience working in primary education. Throughout this time, she worked as a leader in a wide variety of areas, and as Assistant Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher, and Acting Head Teacher, she has been at the forefront of school leadership and improvement for a significant number of years.  

Emma now works as the Educational Adviser for English and is also a member of the Safeguarding team, sharing her experience and knowledge to continually promote and improve the quality of safeguarding, the standard of teaching and learning in English, and in school improvement overall. Supporting schools with the accuracy of their KS1 and KS2 writing assessments is an important part of her role as she can use her expertise as a member for the moderation team to inform, train and support teachers and school leaders. 

Emma is also part of the team which delivers the Health For Life programme (improving the healthy opportunities for primary aged children) and the NPQSL, where she proudly supports the development of our aspiring leaders in the city. 


Our expert advisers can provide in-school visits to deliver sessions on any specific safeguarding issues that are relevant to your setting. We also offer consultancy and a detailed safeguarding audit. We will work with you to understand your exact requirements.

Get in touch with us today if you’d like to discuss bespoke Safeguarding training for your school.

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