We are currently experiencing network problems with the desktop version of Police Oracle. We hope to have these resolved as soon as possible.

Bedfordshire's absenteeism project

Since last year, Bedfordshire has been involved a pilot focusing on supporting young people who are frequently absent from school without involving the police

Last year, the Bedfordshire PCC launched a pilot which sees Youth Intervention Specialists supporting pupils who are absent from school.

The project covers seven secondary schools – two in each of the three Local Authority areas and one alternative provision school (for students who can’t go to a mainstream school).

Specialists are employed by the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit and have a range of lived and professional experiences. They can offer education, one to one support and therapeutic sessions. 

Ahead of the conclusion of the pilot in April, Police Oracle spoke with PCC Festus Akinbusoye about its progression so far.

“Youth Intervention Specialists ordinarily work with young people in gangs or on the cusp of going into gangs and try to get them out of that danger space,” he said.

“That could be through diversion, support and early intervention.

“What we’re doing here is having them come into the school space – particularly to work with those who are truanting, or have unauthorised absences, rather than waiting for the police to get called days later and asked to find someone.”

There are up to four Specialists from the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) who are attached to this project alongside their other work.

When the programme has received a referral from a school – a specialist will make a home visit and come up with a tailored programme of support/intervention.

The project has started to see a growing number of referrals, which PCC Akinbusoye puts down to increased awareness of how it works.

He has asked for interim data ahead of a peer review which will be carried out upon completion of the pilot.

Anecdotally, however, he said the scheme seems to be doing well.

“I was informed the other day of a young person who in June last year, was not really going to school or engaging with services.

“He’s been working with our specialists and is now in an apprenticeship to become a landscape gardener.”

He added that on occasions, the interventions need to involve the parents – and that’s helped by the fact that the specialists working on the project are neither from the police nor the local authority.

Plans are currently being discussed to expand the project across the next financial year to become a mainstream activity across the VERU.

Local councils and schools do have various legal powers for unauthorised absences - parenting orders, fines, or proseuctions which could lead to jail sentences of up to three months. 

Across the 2020/21 academic year, government stats show the overall absence rate in England was 4.6% (over 58 million days), of which unauthorised absence made up 1.3%. 

Meanwhile the percentage of persistent absentees (10% or more missed) was 12.1% in England. 

The region with the highest percentage of persistant absentees was Yorkshire and the Humber (13.6%) while the East of England saw one of the lowest percentages (11.2%). 

Meanwhile, in a study of offensive weapon sentencing between January and March 2018, 83% of knife possession offenders (in young offender cohort) had been persistently absent from school in at least one of the five years of the study. 

Meanwhile, previous data has shown that for young offenders sentenced in 2014 (aged 16 or 17 at sentence date) over 90% given custodial sentences had a previous record of being persistently absent from school. 

PCC Akinbusoye added: “At the beginning of this – we had some counsellors and parents of children with SEND (Special educational needs and disabilities) saying that I was trying to criminalise children with SEND.

“It’s been anything but – I knew that was not the intention, the schools know the kids that face challenges – the schools will not ordinarily be asking children who need a care plan to be on that list [that we receive].

“There might be some children who have got SEND care plans who are also being supported but in fact what we’re trying to do is keep the police entirely out of this space and that’s what we’ve done.

“If anything it’s an added level of support to the young people and their families.”

The PCC told Police Oracle that he has also had questions over why he is putting Home Office money into the education sector.

His response it that there needs to be far more cross-departmental working.

“At what point does it become my problem? When the kid is in police custody? By then it’s too late- we want to try and prevent kids from coming to custody in the first place," he said.

“We try to be as open and transparent as we can be but I was not going to allow this kind of compartmentalisation of responsibilities – at the end of the day, the kids need this support – they don’t care who delivers it.

“The Department for Education cannot stop the issue alone and we also can’t leave it to police to pick up the pieces.”

Leave a Comment
View Comments 1
In Other News
£2m funding for nationwide implementation of ‘Clear, Hold, Build’
Officers in schools provide essential support, says lead on Young People
Online Safety Bill a 'once in a lifetime' chance to protect children
More News