One in five children regularly miss school, figures show

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By Andre Rhoden-Paul
BBC News

More than one in five children in England are frequently missing school, data shows, in a sign attendance is still struggling to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

The children’s commissioner said some children play truant while others experience anxiety or have educational needs so find it easier at home.

Parents should get children back to school, urged Dame Rachel de Souza.

Before the pandemic, just over one in 10 students were persistently absent.

Pupils count as persistently absent if they miss 10% or more of their school days, which is roughly one or more days every fortnight over the school year.

Over the last academic year, Department for Education (DfE) figures show 22.3% of pupils in England were persistently absent.

Speaking to BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Dame Rachel said this equated to 1.8 million children, and estimated that 100,000 of those were playing truant.

“We’ve got a real problem post-pandemic around attendance,” she said. “1.8 million of an eight million cohort is huge… that’s double the number from before the pandemic”.

In 2018/9 before the pandemic, around one in 10 children (10.9%) were persistently absent.

A breakdown of figures shows that the problem is most marked among children on free school meals (37.9%) and those with an education, health and care plan (33.4%).

Dame Rachel said it was really important to get those children who were anxious and “refusing on an emotional basis” back to school.

There is evidence that if children miss more than a day in the first week of term, 55% go on to be persistently absent for the rest of the term.

But the return to school this week already comes with disruption for many parents and children after the government forced some schools to partially or fully close over concerns about the safety of buildings made from a crumbly type of concrete.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said she was very concerned about young people and their futures.

She told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg her party would deliver breakfast clubs for every primary school child in England and improve mental health support to help boost school attendance.

Ms Phillipson added increasing truancy fines for parents who do not ensure their children go to school was not the answer.

Currently, parents in England face £60 fines, which rise to £120 if they are not paid within 21 days, if their children miss school. They are normally issued by local councils.

In January, the Commons education select committee launched an inquiry into persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils.

It will aim to examine the reasons behind the issue, the likely effectiveness of the DfE planned reforms, and the impact of interventions like breakfast clubs on improving attendance.

The children’s commissioner has previously raised concerns that some pupils were missing school on Fridays since the pandemic because their parents were at home,

Dame Rachel told MPs there was “a huge amount” of absence on Fridays – when “mum and dad are at home” that “wasn’t there before”.

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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