A man snoops through the window

Astrea Academy Woodfields in Balby, Doncaster, is facing criticism for allegedly monitoring families’ bins, cars, and mail to address student absences. Staff members reportedly visit the homes of absent students to check for signs of occupancy, such as bins being put out, cars in driveways, or steam from boiler flues.

The National Education Union (NEU) has condemned these methods as invasive. However, the school argues that the measures are part of their efforts to combat unauthorised absences.

David Scales, the principal of Astrea Academy Woodfields, explained, “Like schools across the country, our attendance team routinely does home visits to check on a child if they’ve not been in school for a few days.

“We do this because we care and because we want our students to be in school. Not just because they are there to learn, but it is a sad fact of life that being seen in school is too often one of the most significant protections a child has. When that falls away without good reason, staff are right to be concerned.”

Daniel Kebede, the NEU’s general secretary, criticised the school’s approach, stating, “Tackling absences should not extend to snooping on families. This is a clear over-reach of how a school should behave. It will do nothing to build positive relationships with parents and students.

Astrea Academy Woodfields is one of 17 academies managed by the Astrea Academy Trust in South Yorkshire and has over 720 students enrolled. In a video posted on social media, Scales detailed the school’s strategies to reduce unauthorised absences, including addressing false illness reports and even a case of a family impersonating a doctor’s surgery.

The school’s poor attendance record has been a persistent issue, highlighted in a January 2023 Ofsted inspection. The Ofsted report noted, “Pupils’ attendance remains too low. The number of pupils who do not attend school often enough is increasing. These pupils miss important learning and fall behind their peers.

To improve attendance, the school has introduced an “attendance challenge,” offering voucher rewards for students and families with good attendance. Despite these efforts, Kebede emphasised that punitive measures like fines are ineffective in addressing the root causes of absenteeism, advocating for constructive engagement with parents to encourage regular attendance.

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