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LGA Responds to Education Committee Report on School Absences

school absences

The Education Committee has proposed a range of measures from mental health and SEND support to urgent legislation targeted at reversing the trend of children’s absence from school.

School absences

The report argues that whilst successive ministers have prioritised getting children back to school since the pandemic, the overall figures, and more concerningly for ‘persistent’ and ‘severe absence’, have failed to return to pre-pandemic levels. The cross-party Committee explores how growing demand for mental health services and special educational needs (SEND) support, as well as cost-of-living pressures and other issues, have compounded a problem that worsened following the covid lockdowns but remains present.
The most recent full-year statistics (for the 2021/22 academic year) showed an overall absence rate of 7.6%, up from around 4-5% before the pandemic. In that year, 22.5% of pupils were persistently absent, meaning they missed 10% or more of school sessions – around double the pre-pandemic rate. 1.7% of all pupils were severely absent, meaning they missed more than half of sessions, compared to less than 1% pre-pandemic. The most recent statistical release from the Department for Education (DfE), relating to the autumn term 2022/23, shows that persistent absence had risen to 24.2% of pupils.

Various issues are looked at throughout the report including:

  • Mental health support
  • Attendance mentors and hubs
  • Support for pupils with SEND
  • Fines
  • Cost-of-living pressures
  • Register of children not in school
  • Physical illness
  • Food and enrichment-based intervention

The LGA’s response

Responding to a report by the Education Committee on tackling school absence, Cllr Louise Gittins, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: 

“Good attendance at school plays a vital role in children’s development, however councils lack the powers to ensure children who are missing school don’t slip through the net, such as directing academies to accept pupils. 

“We support the Committee’s call for government to legislate for a register of children not in school. This needs to be combined with powers for councils to meet face-to-face with children. 

“There should also be a cross-government, child centred-strategy to tackle rising disadvantage and the wider factors contributing toward persistent absence. This must include reforming the SEND system and expanding access to mental health support and youth services.”

Final thought

The school absence crisis must be tackled through various methods operating at different levels of government. Policies that focus on children’s differing needs are vital, as well as more power for local authorities to intervene.

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