10th October 2022
Persistent School Absences Becoming a Major Issue, Post-pandemic
More than 100,000 "ghost children" have not returned to school since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Education Select Committee chair Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow in Essex, told BBC Politics East that more than 100,000 students had not returned to school since the coronavirus pandemic began. Mr Halfon said; "I describe them as the four horsemen of the educational apocalypse galloping towards young people - lost educational attainment, damage to their mental health, damage to their safeguarding and loss of life chances, This is going to be with us not just for a few weeks or months, but potentially for decades to come."
Figures for the East of England show 200,803 pupils have been persistently absent [10% of the time], while 11,313 have been severely absent [off 50% of the time].
The latest figures nationally show school attendance was 80.8% on 21 July, compared to 92.2% in March.
Some parents are choosing to home school their children, while others say more help is needed to support the individual needs of pupils.
Amanda Rolph, from Norfolk, told the BBC she decided to home-educate her son after he had problems at school. She said; "It became clear he wasn't coping very well. He was very anxious at night. He'd always be asking, 'Is it school tomorrow?' He could never relax, even at weekends."
Anna Allen, from Essex, said her son suffered mental health issues at school and she had concerns about the bill. "It's this focus on crime and punishment rather than nurturing children. Children will do well if they can. It's not that the children won't attend school, it's that they can't for whatever reason, and the reasons need to be looked into."
Are Schools too Quick to Fine Parents?
Director of parents group Square Peg, Ellie Costello, said it was concerned that schools ignored valid mental health reasons why children could not attend school and were too quick to fine parents.
She said some parents had children who occasionally could not attend school, while others had children who they educated at home.
Square Peg said in its submission to the government on the Schools Bill: "Criminal sanctions such as fines and threats of imprisonment have no place in the state's duty to provide education."
The Schools Bill
In May 2022, the government announced a new Schools Bill, with a focus on attendance. Legislation will bring into force, new statutory guidance on attendance, including a requirement for every school to publish a clear attendance policy to improve support. The government claim that by setting clear expectations for staff, pupils, and parents they will know what processes should be followed in cases of absence and what support should be offered. For parents this should result in greater consistency and improved, earlier support where required.