British Queen celebrates


New statistics reveal that over 20% of children in England are regularly missing school, signaling ongoing struggles in restoring attendance levels to pre-pandemic norms. According to the

Children's Commissioner, this absenteeism is attributed to various factors, including truancy, anxiety, and educational needs that are better met at home. Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children's Commissioner, has called upon parents to ensure their children return to school to address this concerning trend.

Before the pandemic, slightly over 10% of students were categorized as persistently absent, meaning they missed 10% or more of their school days, equivalent to approximately one or more days every two weeks throughout the school year. In the last academic year, the Department for Education (DfE) reported that 22.3% of pupils in England fell into this category, constituting 1.8 million children. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 of these children were playing truant. Dame Rachel emphasized the gravity of the situation by stating that "we've got a real problem post-pandemic around attendance," with the current figure being double that from before the pandemic in 2018/19.

Further examination of the data reveals that this issue disproportionately affects children receiving free school meals (37.9%) and those with an education, health, and care plan (33.4%). Dame Rachel stressed the importance of addressing the emotional barriers faced by children who are anxious or resistant to returning to school.

Research also indicates that if a child misses more than one day during the first week of term, there is a 55% likelihood that they will continue to be persistently absent for the rest of the term. Additionally, the DfE found that students who perform well academically tend to miss fewer school days compared to those who struggle.

However, the return to school is marred by disruptions for many parents and students due to concerns about the safety of school buildings constructed with a crumbling type of concrete. This adds to the challenges already faced by families trying to ensure regular attendance.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary for the Labour Party, expressed deep concern for the well-being and futures of young people. She pledged to implement breakfast clubs for every primary school child in England and improve mental health support to boost school attendance, emphasizing that increasing truancy fines for parents is not the solution. Currently, parents in England can be fined £60, which doubles to £120 if unpaid within 21 days, when their children miss school. These fines are typically issued by local councils.

To address the persistent absence issue, the Commons education select committee initiated an inquiry in January, focusing on reasons behind the problem, the potential effectiveness of DfE reforms, and the impact of interventions like breakfast clubs on improving attendance.

Furthermore, Dame Rachel has raised concerns about a significant increase in absences on Fridays during the pandemic when parents were at home. The DfE acknowledges the ongoing challenge but highlights its efforts to support schools in boosting attendance through an attendance strategy and guidance, including a new data visualization tool for teachers to analyze attendance trends. The DfE has been contacted for comment on these recent statistics. Photo by Sebastiandoe5, Wikimedia commons.