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How ex-Navy personnel can improve school attendance

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An award-winning headteacher has told of how her school improved attendance rates by sending ex-Navy personnel to “bang on the doors” of absent pupils’ homes and take them to school in a people carrier.

Dame Sharon Hollows, principal of Charter Academy in Portsmouth, told a pupil premium conference today that her school used some of its extra funding to pay for a people carrier and a team of support workers to drive to pupils’ homes and take them into school.

“We bang on flat doors,” she said. “We’re very good at getting into blocks of flats through tradesmen’s entrances because, of course, if we ring the bell then nobody answers. And we just make an absolute nuisance of ourselves until students come to school.”

She said that the support workers would enter students’ bedrooms –  with parents’ consent – if they were “refusing to come out from under the duvet”.

“We go into children’s bedrooms with a parent and say, right, you need to get dressed now and come to school with us,” she said.

The support workers visited pupils’ homes every day and brought on average five students into school per day, she added.

She said many of the support workers were ex-Royal Navy personnel, who were based in the city because it is home to one of the UK’s largest naval bases.

Speaking after the event, Dame Sharon said many parents supported the programme. “Sometimes parents even ring us up and say, 'Look, I’m having problems with my child today – please come and help me',” she said. “We welcome that.

“Now children just come to school because they know we’ll bang on the door if they don’t.”

Dame Sharon said the school’s attendance rate had risen to 95 per cent, from a figure “in the eighties” before the programme began in 2009.

The school won the TES Pupil Premium Award for secondary schools this year. Dame Sharon said it had previously been the lowest-achieving school in the country, but was last year the most-improved school in the country based on its GCSE results. Eighty-three per cent of its students, and 82 per cent of students eligible for free school meals, achieved five GCSEs at grade A* to C including English and Maths in 2014. 

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