One in five children in Wales are now regularly missing school. The data was revealed by the Welsh Government as it launches a campaign to get them back to the classroom.
Education minister Jeremy Miles admitted
attendance since the pandemic
has not recovered as hoped. He said parents and carers “should be doing absolutely everything they can to ensure their children are in school”.
Pupil absences have doubled since pandemic classroom closures and a “national effort” is now needed to address the problem, he added. The Welsh Government is now proposing to reduce the number of lessons missed to define persistent absence as part of efforts to address the problem.
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The get back to school campaign follows dire warnings from head teachers and teaching unions about the social and economic effects of so many children, more often from less well-off families, missing out on their education. The Welsh Government has launched a consultation to help schools, pupil referral units, and local authorities to improve school attendance.
The consultation seeks views on the current definition of persistent absence, which is currently defined as more than 20% of school sessions, and views on cutting that to those missing more than 10% of school sessions a school session is half a day.
This change, if agreed would bring Wales in line with the definition of persistent absence in England. Across the border that is already defined as missing more than 10% of school sessions.
The measure is often set as the trigger for certain kinds of intervention such as the involvement of the Education Welfare Service. The consultation will review whether lowering the threshold for intervention would better support families.
Announcing the consultation the Welsh Government said: “Prior to the pandemic there had been a gradual rise in school attendance but overall attendance figures have significant dropped since the pandemic. In the 2018-19 school year overall absenteeism figures stood at 5.7% provisional data for the 2022-23 school year to date shows this has risen to 10.5%. Persistent absence amongst pupils eligible for free school meals has more than doubled from 8.4% of pupils in 2018-19 to 18.8% of pupils in 2022-23 to date.”
Education Minister Jeremy Miles chats to children during a visit to Lansdowne Primary in Cardiff last year
(Image: WalesOnline)
Latest absence data published on June 7, which covers the week May 22-26 shows:
Average attendance for this academic year to date is 89.5%.
An average of 87.6% of half-day school sessions were recorded as present for pupils aged five to 15, down from 88.8% the week before.
An average of 7.3% of half-day school sessions were recorded as authorised absence for pupils aged five to 15 , up from 6.9% the week before.
An average of 5.1% of half-day school sessions were recorded as unauthorised absence for pupils aged five to 15, up from 4.4% the week before.
Attendance rates are highest for pupils in Years Three and Four (91.8%) and lowest for pupils in Year 11 (84.1%).
The attendance rate for the academic year to date has been higher for pupils not eligible for free school meals (91.4%) than pupils who are eligible for free school meals (83.9%).
The most common reason for absence for the academic year to date has been illness, with 49.1% of sessions missed being for this reason.
Persistent absence
8.4% of pupils have missed 61 sessions (30.5 days) or more. There have been 156 days in the school year so far.
18.8 % of pupils who are eligible for free school meals have been absent for 61 sessions (30.5 days) or more.
8.4% of boys and 9.1% of girls have missed 61 sessions (30.5 days) or more.
Mr Miles said: Attendance figures have not recovered since the pandemic in a way we would have hoped it needs a national effort to tackle the ongoing attendance issue. Improving school attendance must been seen as a national priority.
“We know there are a range of reasons or underlying causes for learner absence and that this has been further exacerbated over the last two years. There is a well-established link between attendance, attainment, and wellbeing.
“My priority, above all else, is to ensure that every young person has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Tackling learner absence is key to this. Schools are doing excellent work but they cant do this on their own.
“Learners need to be attending school, seeing their friends, and learning in the classroom. This is vital for their wellbeing, their education, and their future prospects.
“Parents and carers should be doing absolutely everything they can to ensure their children are in school. Its the best way to give them the start in life and the future they deserve. I would urge families, schools, and relevant parties to have their say to help shape this important piece of guidance we have published.
The guidance Belonging, Engaging, and Participating lists reasons children may be missing school. It says schools should consider issues that may affect pupils’ attendance can include:
Bullying or discrimination
Unmet or unidentified additional learning needs or disability
Anxieties about school work or exams
Emotionally-based school avoidance (EBSA)
The guidance says it is “well established” that poor attendance patterns are often related to learner mental health and wellbeing. “Poor mental health in particular has been linked to poor school attendance with anxiety often identified as a key factor behaviour is often a product of circumstances and past experiences.”
The document gives a long list of those particularly at risk of missing school. This includes those on the child protection register, looked-after children, those who have previously been excluded, young carers, some children from ethnic minority communities, children and young people of homeless parents living in temporary accommodation, and pregnant young women.
Family reasons children may be absent also include bereavement, divorce, separation, low income, alcohol or drug abuse, or mental illness. The document adds that although there “are clear trends and correlations in the (absence) data the causes for each individual are often unique and any approach has to address the attendance needs of each pupil”.
The Welsh Government has announced 6.5m for the financial year 2023-24 for more family engagement officers and 2.5m for the same year for education welfare officers. All schools are now required to publish or make available their attendance polices and fixed penalty notices for parents and carers not sending their children to school have been re-introduced but only “as a last resort”.