Evaluation of Fast Track to Prosecution for School Non-attendance
24 October 2004
The Fast Track to Prosecution framework was created to ensure a faster approach to the implementation of intervention strategies for tackling school non-attendance. The framework began as a Pathfinder in nine LEAs in January 2003 and was being implemented by more than two thirds of LEAs in England by the time this evaluation was completed. The policy intention behind the introduction of Fast Track was to ensure that schools and LEAs deal with attendance cases quickly and in the most effective way to get children back into school
The framework has been described by the DfES as a form of time-focused case management. Action advocated under Fast Track involves engaging the parent and specifying what improvements need to be made over a set timeframe (ideally 12 weeks). Where the parents fail to take their responsibilities seriously and no improvement is brought about in the child’s attendance within the specified time frame, prosecution proceedings are initiated. There are flexibilities in the Fast Track model outlined by the DfES, as the intention was to allow for local circumstances and local control. The NFER was commissioned to evaluate the implementation of the framework and data collection began in January 2003.
Different approaches to implementation
Different versions of Fast Track were operating in 12 case-study LEAs. Variations were evident in the set time frame, scope of implementation (e.g. one school or LEA wide) and the level of school involvement. The major difference between LEAs was the intended purpose and target groups of Fast Track. Two LEAs ran what could be termed ‘court-focused Fast Tracks’ with the function of rapidly progressing more entrenched cases to court. In nine LEAs, Fast Track was classified more as an ‘early intervention’ strategy. Here, a wider range of cases would be targeted and, through the processes of Fast Track, it was hoped that attendance would improve and cases be withdrawn. One LEA operated a ‘whole-school and community-focused Fast Track’ where the overriding purpose was to raise awareness amongst all parents and pupils about the importance of good attendance.
Impact and effectiveness of Fast Track
With a few exceptions, the view amongst interviewees was that Fast Track had a positive impact in the 12 LEAs, particularly with improvements to Education Welfare Service (EWS) procedures and, concomitantly, attitudes to attendance and even attendance levels.
Interviewees generally felt that Fast Track was an effective strategy for tackling school non-attendance principally because of the procedural improvements and efficiencies it introduced. The aspect of Fast Track most frequently commended, and thus raised as both a positive impact and an effectiveness factor, was the more structured approach, within a clearer timescale. The profile of attendance issues was said to have been raised through Fast Track, and the speed of the process symbolised its importance to parents and pupils.
Quantitative data provided by LEAs also suggested that Fast Track led to improvements in attendance whilst families were under the umbrella of Fast Track. On average, attendance levels rose by 11 per cent. However, once the intervention had reached its conclusion or was suspended, attendance levels were not always maintained. This finding, however, relates to a specific sample of cases and it must be acknowledged that the data provided by LEAs was not always complete. At the same time, some interviewees did make similar observations noting that attendance could deteriorate once the spotlight of Fast Track was lifted. Attendance improvements were more likely to be maintained where attendance was monitored on an ongoing basis after Fast Track, as opposed to a time-limited basis.
Types of cases that responded to Fast Track
The majority of interviewees concurred that Fast Track was likely to be more effective for cases where non-attendance was not at a crisis point. Hence, Fast Track was seen to be more successful in the marginal and borderline non-attendance cases. Entrenched non-attendance was often associated with other issues within the family situation, and Fast Track was not seen to be as effective in these complex cases. In addition, pupils’ self-determined actions and a lack of parental control were frequently identified as factors militating against the success of Fast Track.