Doncaster school checking on absent pupils’ bins, cars and post

Posted: 15th March 2024

A secondary school is monitoring families’ bins, cars and post to crack down on unauthorised pupil absences.

Astrea Academy Woodfields in Doncaster is checking driveways, boiler flues and lights to see if people are home or away on holiday.

Principal David Scales said the visits were conducted out of safety concerns for absent children.

The National Education Union (NEU) branded the measures “invasive snooping tactics”.

Mr Scales told the BBC that during these visits, staff would check for post on doorsteps, bins on bin days, whether cars were in the driveways or if steam was being released from the boiler flue.

“We do this because we care and because we want our students to be in school,” Mr Scales said.

Woodfields is part of the Astrea Academy Trust, which looks after 17 schools across South Yorkshire, and is attended by more than 720 students.

Last Wednesday, Mr Scales posted a video on X, formerly Twitter, to explain what the school was doing to tackle unauthorised absences.

He said some parents would call to lie about their child being ill – and occasionally had gone as far as to “impersonate” a doctor’s surgery.

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The school has been struggling with poor attendance which was highlighted by Ofsted during an inspection in January 2023.

Inspectors rated the school “inadequate” and said absences paired with poor behaviour were creating “gaps in [students’] knowledge”.

Following the inspection, Mr Scales was appointed as principal in March 2023 and, according to a monitoring visit by Ofsted in October, attendance had “improved slightly”.

Figures from Astrea Academy Trust show 92 students at Woodfields have had at least one day of unauthorised holiday this school year.

Of these, 58 were discovered through house visits.

The NEU’s Doncaster branch and district secretary Fiona Campbell accused Woodfields of publicly shaming families and undermining positive relationships with parents and students.

“Lots of schools locally are experiencing difficulties with challenging attendance figures,” she said.

“Other schools though are not resorting to invasive snooping tactics, and many recognise the difficulties parents might face in trying to arrange valuable family time together.”

Mr Scales said the school had been “very open” with families, adding: “We talk about these examples to highlight the extent of the challenge – and to make clear that this simply is not acceptable.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said it promoted a “support-first approach” and backed schools and local authorities that worked with families to improve attendance.

“Where appropriate, this could include home visits and door-knocking services,” the spokesperson added.

It comes after the government announced fines for unauthorised school absences would rise across England.

Source: Doncaster school checking on absent pupils’ bins, cars and post – BBC News

Categories: News