25 May 2021
A new national report produced in conjunction with Cheshire West and Chester Council and the borough’s schools has provided vital insights into the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on pupils’ attendance.
The findings of the report, entitled It’s Time to ACT and published this week by Social Finance, will be used to shape support and services for the borough’s children and young people as the nation continues to emerge from lockdown.
Funded by the Westminster Foundation, the study analysed attendance and exclusion data taken from 21 schools in the borough during the first 10 weeks of the 2020/21 academic year.
The findings showed that the inequalities associated with school attendance have been amplified during the pandemic when compared with the three previous years.
It’s Time to ACT found that pupils eligible for free school meals, pupils who have previous or current contact with children’s service and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) were the most impacted, alongside pupils from areas of high deprivation and who had previous fixed-term exclusions.
COVID-19 has had a major impact on our children and young people’s education and social interactions. The Council realised these experiences would have an effect on children locally and, although school exclusion rates in the borough are below the national average, were proactive in taking part in the report to better understand the impacts.
This information will be used to target early support to those pupils most at risk of experiencing difficulties with attendance or being excluded.
The report highlights how local schools, agencies and communities showed resilience, expertise and capacity for innovation in their response to the pandemic. The Council worked closely with schools and partners to provide guidance and support to schools. This included working alongside the West Cheshire Children’s Trust to develop a COVID-19 Recovery Guide and online specialist training to support schools and front-line practitioners in recognising and responding to the needs of children during the recovery.
Schools were also supported to set up their home learning offer, with digital devices provided for those pupils who did not have access to one at home. Systems were put in place to contact vulnerable pupils working from home and engage those struggling with remote learning.
In addition, support and provision via the Holiday Activity Fund and Welcome Network was provided to families needing help.
Councillor Bob Cernik, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “As a local authority we’ve been proactive, working alongside Social Finance, to take action to address issues of exclusions in our local schools, even though our rates are lower than the national average. We knew the past year has been particularly hard on children and families and realised early on that the pandemic would impact on children’s education and wellbeing and wanted to act quickly to understand this further so we could put measures in place to support pupils that needed help.
“Locally we are committed to taking an early intervention approach and supporting pupils with specific needs that may have been a result of past or ongoing trauma by using trauma-informed practice, something that has been vital over this past year.
“Strong partnership working between the Council, our schools and other local agencies has meant that we were able to roll out this support system from the start of the school year and we’re keen to use the detailed data analysis provided in the report to give us further insight in this area and to help target our support to ensure children and young people are able to access the education they deserve and achieve their best.
“I would like to thank the incredible dedication and expertise of local schools and agencies who were involved in this work and also recognise the contribution that our parents and carers have made throughout the pandemic to ensure children continued with their learning and education during this challenging period.”
Ellesmere Port Catholic High School is one of the schools in the borough that contributed to the report. Caroline Vile, Headteacher at the school, said: “As a school we are proud of our response to the pandemic and firmly believe that our children and young people have been individually supported throughout the process. Using our trauma informed approach and taking into consideration the needs of each young person and their family, we were able to have 24-7 contact with our families through the use of Microsoft Teams. This platform has helped to improve our contact and communication with pupils and families and it will further develop our practices at school. We continued with our virtual work experience and won an Educate award for our personal development programme, which ran throughout, providing our students with opportunities beyond the classroom. We’re keen to build on this success and use the findings from this report to further develop our learning so we can support our pupils to achieve their best.”
Sara Parsonage, a Director at Social Finance, said: “The full impact of the pandemic on children and schools is an emerging and complex picture, by sharing our findings now we are highlighting trends and learnings for schools and local authorities across the country to consider. The report shows the value of investing in data analysis nationally, to uncover what’s really going on in our schools to inform better policymaking and practice. We’re calling on the Government to use the data that is already available to support local areas to plan for response and recovery, as well as investing in infrastructure to support more timely analysis in future. This will allow us to develop local and national structures to support the use of data to make better decisions as communities’ needs change.”
The Duke of Westminster, Chair of the Westminster Foundation which funded the report, said: “This report confirms our concerns that educational inequality has worsened through the pandemic, highlighted by the worrying over-representation of absenteeism from children already known to be at a disadvantage. After such a disrupted year, it’s important that all children and young people can return to school and benefit from access to education, support and social relationships. I’d like to thank Social Finance and Cheshire West and Chester Council for providing and analysing this data which I hope will help improve school attendance after lockdown.”