School absenteeism seen as a ‘national crisis’

Wed,22 February 2023
News UK Education
A Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, Lee Elliot Major has told the Commons Education Committee that there is a “national persistent truancy crisis” in England, with significantly more children now missing lessons than before the pandemic. 

The Committee has launched an Inquiry to find solutions to the crisis. Elliot Major said that evidence on how to reduce persistent absenteeism was weak.He told the Committee: “The reasons why so many children have not returned to school is varied and complex, but most troubling of all, some families appear to have lost their belief that attending school regularly is necessary for their children.”Research from FFT Datalab has found that a third of 15-year-olds have been persistently absent from school since the autumn, with those eligible for free school meals particularly prone to absence. Special Needs Jungle has reported time and again about the numbers of SEND children who are classed as absentees. Many children who are school refusers are autistic, have SEND and are highly anxious, and many have mental health distress which is a disability.A Special Needs Jungle survey of 126 parents of 132 children found that around 40% of the children had autism, and many had other health issues. 90% of the children had SEND or a health problem, and almost all were very anxious. Around 60% of the children had been bullied in school, mostly by other children and some by school staff. DR UK Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “The Government must wake up to the fact that these children are not adverse to learning, they are adverse to the environments which are not set up to meet their needs and actively cause them further impairments. “Mainstream schools are often far from adequate in meeting the needs of Disabled children – physical access is often difficult, and for those who are neurodiverse, there are often far too many sensory stressors – from crowded, noisy classrooms and playgrounds, to the speed of transitions between classes and the speed at which children are forced to learn. Mainstream schools, especially secondaries, are often far too big to allow truly inclusive education. Put together, a school day in such an environment is a recipe for mental health breakdown and school refusal. “There has been a dramatic rise in the number of children going to Special Schools, largely driven by the failure of mainstream schools to provide inclusive learning environments. Whilst it is understandable that families are seeking the best education for their Disabled children, the move towards segregated education is very concerning.“Government needs to listen to radical thinking on how to switch up mainstream environments so they work for all children, and where children opt to attend specialist settings, that there are enough places and enough funding available. It is outrageous that only four per cent of Disabled children can obtain an Education Health and Care Plan which would enable them to make the right choices for their wellbeing – the rest are left high and dry, with three quarters of parents punished for their children’s absence, with some even being jailed.”